I’m a planner. By the time I was seven years old, I had my entire life mapped out. After my family had hosted some college students who were part of a traveling choir, I decided that I would go some day—although I barely understood what college was. I planned to have a career, too, even though I couldn’t decide what it might be. And I would, of course, have children, which seemed to me to be the most important job in the world.
I did well in school. I went to college. I got married and then went on to graduate school. But the children? They didn’t come. After testing and surgery and promises from the doctor, nothing happened. Doors that cracked open to adoption seemed to close quickly. I had spent my life headed toward an ultimate goal. And it wasn’t just any goal: It was a biblical, God-honoring one. I didn’t understand why my heavenly Father wasn’t doing His part. Had I been wrong to plan all those years?
One day, after facing one disappointment after another, I stumbled across a verse that seemed to have been written just for me: “The mind of man plans his way, but the lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9). I had indeed planned, and this verse indicated that doing so was a good thing. But the second half of the verse completed the picture: While I was plotting, God was steering. I thought the steps in my plan were taking me one way, but God was using them to lead me in another direction. Since then, I’ve come to believe living the Christian life is like taking a long road trip. You start out according to the map you’ve made, but when you come to a closed road, your direction changes. It is wise to plan, but refusing to take redirection at critical points is foolish and dangerous.
I realized that loving God and wanting to serve Him are not in themselves any guarantee of being in God’s groove. Indeed, many of us flail as we search out His direction amidst our well-laid plans. This is why the Bible plainly tells us to “make every effort to confirm your calling” (2 Peter 1:10 NIV). According to this passage, being in sync with God—or participating in “the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)—requires more than just faith. To faith we are told to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV). As these various qualities increase, this passage promises, the believer is kept from “being ineffective and unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8 NIV).
Loving God and wanting to serve Him are not in themselves any guarantee of being in God’s groove.
When I understood the path I had charted was closed to me and it became clear that God was redirecting my life, I began to look more closely at the roads that were open.
God was blessing my academic work, so I continued in it. Even before I had graduated, He opened the door at a Christian university, so I was able to get a job immediately in a field that found many of my peers languishing for years in search for full-time employment.
Of all the careers I had imagined for myself as a girl, teaching hadn’t made the list. Yet, when I decided to give it a try, I discovered what God had, in fact, created me to do. In teaching, all my passions were fed: a love of learning; the desire to use both the creative and analytical parts of my mind; the mentoring and nurturing I had sought to do as a mother; and the need to make a difference by molding the next generation. But God wasn’t done yet. Soon He used the platform I had as a university professor to give me opportunities to write books and articles, expanding both my classroom and my creativity into the wider world. Like teaching, writing had not been part of my design. But God Himself was directing my steps, leading me.
The journey I had mapped out for my life became the road not taken. However, God is using every one of my plans, but for a purpose different from the one I had imagined. Stumbling into His calling on my life—and choosing it rather than what my heart desired—has shown me that God’s groove is the only one I want to be in.
Illustration by Eric Capossela