Detour (noun) 1. A roundabout or circuitous way or course, especially one used temporarily when the main route is closed. --Random House Dictionary
My two friends made the best of travel plans, down to the last detail. After a week’s vacation in Florida for Christmas to visit family, the plan was to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, find the gate, settle in, board the plane then fly straight home to Boston. What could go wrong? They had a plan. No detours, right?
But the gate they went to was the wrong one and they didn’t realize it until the last moment. So they made a mad dash to the correct gate but their plane had already whooshed away. So they scrambled to get another flight but now they had to fly to Buffalo, Baltimore, Chicago and then to Boston. Fourteen hours, 2,887 miles and multiple plane changes after leaving the Sunshine State they finally made it home. But it was a good plan, yes?
Plans made. Plans changed. To do lists carefully created and then altered and then edited some more and then just tossed out. We always make plans, it’s just what humans do, but then life is just life and everything changes. Detours happen. Some are a mere inconvenience like my friends’ travel odyssey. But some detours are jolting, jarring, completely out of left field.
We plan to stay with our love for all of life and then divorce happens. We plan our kid’s lives to a “T”, all so they’ll be happy and then they struggle or fail or get in trouble. We arrive at work and get a pink slip. Walk into the doctor’s office and receive bad news.
Some detours are a gift. Told she’ll never get pregnant a young woman finds she is with child, a miracle! We connect with an old friend and this chance encounter leads to a new job. We pull a pair of jeans from the laundry pile and find that check we thought we had lost.
Detours. Could the people of Japan have ever imagined one year ago that millions of them would be so storm tossed by a deadly tsunami and nuclear emergency? Did the folks of the Middle East dare to dream that in 2011 the winds of democratic change would blow so powerfully and radically over lands which for so long had lived under brutal and violent rule? Who could plan for these world changing events, these unforeseeable, unpredictable detours? No one. Because always there’s the human plan. And then there’s life: capricious, mysterious, complicated, and wondrous with all its twists and turns. As the proverb says, “Man plans. God laughs.”
Doesn’t mean that God somehow plays dice with the universe or throws curveballs our way to upset our best laid plans for sport or show. That’s not the God I believe in. It does mean that one of the best spiritual lessons of life, especially at the beginning of the year when so many of us make a plan, is to plan on that plan changing. To plan that the road we are on will absolutely include detours, both globally and personally. To expect the unexpected and when we must, throw out the old plan, remembering that much of life is not about precision but improvisation. Just doing our best each day with whatever life tosses our way. To trust that God is not a great chess player in the sky when it comes to the game of life, that instead the Universe will give us the tools we need to get through, especially when the plan falls apart. But first we may have to let go of the plan.
So in this first week of the New Year, go ahead. Make a list. Make a plan. But use a pencil with a nice big fat pink eraser at the end. That way when the detours come (and they will), we can change the plan.
For there’s the plan. And then there’s life. See you on the road.