Lady Pastor: When plans go astray, sometimes it's OK

My daily planner is one of my favorite possessions. I keep it with me nearly every hour of the day (though I try to draw the line at bedtime, and we separate for about 8 hours). Looking at it helps me feel calm and prepared. I adore knowing what to expect. There are other folks out there who enjoy planning, too, right? Can I get an "amen"?

However, here's an important truth about the realities of pastor life (and nearly everyone's lives): it's impossible to know exactly what to expect. As much as I love my planner, there are many days when the plans get changed.

People get sick. Schedules get adjusted. Meetings go longer than expected. Occasionally there are emergencies. No two days are the same. The Holy Spirit is always at work, no doubt about it. But God's timing is more or less unknowable.

This is one of the largest and most challenging lessons I've been learning as a pastor. Not everything in life can be planned and scheduled. And if being organized is a sacred human quality, then being adaptable is, too.

I remember during my interview, the call committee asked me about my personality type and work habits. I believe I went on and on about how much I like to plan. This naive pastor clearly had much to learn.


Ever so slowly, though, I'm adapting to life in an unpredictable world. I'm writing in pencil more often, and I invested in some high-quality whiteout. Organizing and planning remain useful tools in the pastor toolkit, and they certainly have their place. But there are plenty of other tools to add, too.

For all of us, regardless of vocation, life certainly requires some planning. It also requires plenty of flexibility.

I saw a few examples of adaptability the other day. I was in a grocery store parking lot. One driver turned in front of another driver in a fairly aggressive way. It was the kind of hurried approach many of us have probably taken in a parking lot, trying to get home and make dinner.

Amazingly, the woman who had been cut-off just smiled. A genuine smile. And then she shared a small wave to let the person know it was okay. That was some instant adapting of attitude. She would have had every right to honk. But she didn't. She adapted to the situation and made the best of it.

Then I was walking through the skyway to get to the library. I saw some confused people up ahead looking around. They were lost and didn't know where to go. Then I saw another person stop, even though she was obviously headed somewhere. The kind person put a pause on whatever she was doing and helped the people find their way. She left a little room for flexibility in her schedule, and it made a big difference to the couple who was lost.

There is a beloved passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3. It is about how there is a time for everything. A few of the lines read, "A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." If I could add another line, it would be, "A time to plan and a time to adapt plans."

May we recognize the beauty and importance of both sides of the coin.

The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at:

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