My daughter, Zoe, is doing her GCSEs.
Her academically selective school, which generally sends 34-40% of its students to Oxbridge is a bit of a academic hot-house.
So much of her year has a Plan A. All 10 A stars. And then a Plan A for the A-levels. All 4 A stars. And then a Plan A. Oxbridge.
And then, Plans A diverge. Stellar careers in politics, law, academia, the arts, media, journalism, business…
Zoe’s post-uni plans are different. She is 16, but mentions things like perhaps being a priest, because she loves Scripture and people, or working with Heidi Baker in Mozambique, or youth ministry. She is just 16, of course.
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Very few people live their lives in Plan A. At 17, my Plan A, oddly, was to become a nun, and work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Well, I entered the novitiate, but left 14 months later, when I was 18.
Plan A was then academics. I read English at Somerville College, Oxford, and was accepted for a Ph.D at Oxford University, contingent on getting a First. I didn’t.
Plan A was then becoming a writer. I published articles in various prestigious places, won prizes, including a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts award. I got a dream editor and agent. But my manuscript was not the one they envisioned, and in the process of revising it, I got depressed, and abandoned it (for a season).
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Which brings me to now. I am definitely living in Plan B. It’s not my plan A which would have involved me being a successful writer by now.
I am leading an interesting life, a happy life. I like it. It’s just not Plan A.
Almost nobody lives in Plan A. For many of us, it is Plan B, at best
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Plan B is not necessarily a bad place to live. It is where our real life happens.
Plan B saw me go to graduate school in America, where I grew close to Roy, now my husband. I found myself stymied in my manuscript, and abandoned it; I used my energy to found a publishing company, and now, when I go back to my manuscript, I’ll self-publish it. It won’t be perfect, but it will be exactly the book I want to write.
And the publishing company has opened other doors, such as that of travel, which is a happy, refreshing and revitalizing and educational experience for me. We tend to visit Europe, or go further afield during every school half-term or holiday, 5-6 times a year of late. We could not have afforded that without running a small business.
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It is in the shadows of disappointment and heartbreak, of things not working out as they should, that we develop character: endurance, toughness, optimism, compassion for those who are walking the same shadowy path, knowledge of what it is to suffer.
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I have a Plan A for the second half of my life. It involves health, happiness, fruitfulness, happiness for my husband and children, the continued success of our family business, and God’s blessing on my writing. It involves some travel, much gardening, much reading and writing.
I believe I can ask God to bless it.
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The Bible has much to say about prayer and the desires of our hearts, about prayer and Plan A.
Moses catching sight of God burst out with, “Show me your glory.” And the Lord replies, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:17).
Abraham in prayer whittles God down from a promise to not destroy the city if 50 righteous people could be found to an assurance that his family would be saved. Hezekiah’s prayers in Kings add 15 years to his life.
Prayer is more likely to bring Plan A into existence.
I like this Davidic prayer, May he give you the desire of your heart, and make all your plans succeed. “Psalm 20:4. Since I am rather fond of my own current Plan A, I am praying that somehow God will bless it.
However, since I myself, and most people I know, live in Plan B at best, that is the plan to thrive and be happy in, since that is our life.
Ultimately, because our wisdom is limited, but God’s is not, what really matters is that we live in God’s Plan A for the rest of our lives, “plans for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11).
May it be so.