God’s plans for my life have almost never been my plans for my life.
When I was thirteen, I knew what college I wanted to attend even before I started high school, what career I wanted to pursue afterward, what age I thought would be ideal to get married, and even what life might look like well into my twenties. I held onto these plans for a long time, until real life happened — and not like I thought it would.
Sometimes it felt like I had no control at all over plans that fell apart. I tried to make my timeline fit, but my plans just weren’t working. Despite all my dreams and efforts, almost nothing on my list happened in the way or timing I expected. It was quickly evident that the Lord had something else in mind for my life.
As God redirected my life at each step, often against my will, he also changed my heart. With each delayed or unfulfilled plan, I began to learn what it meant to willingly, even joyfully, exchange my personal dreams for God’s good plans for me.
The Exchange Requires Surrender
After a series of disappointments early on in life, I began to ask what all God might ask me to give up in my life. Would he ask me to go to a different college? Would he not enable me to succeed in the career I wanted? Would I ever get married or have a family of my own?
I became afraid that life would only ever be disappointment. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t have any confidence that what I wanted was what God wanted for me. I also knew that no matter how hard I worked to make my desires come true, no amount of forward-thinking or effort would succeed if it was outside of God’s will for my life (Psalm 127:1).
God does not want us to adopt a fear-driven mindset about our future (Romans 8:15). His sovereign power over our lives is meant to inspire us to hope, not worry. Your dreams or aspirations are not necessarily bad desires, but God ultimately knows what is best for us, and therefore he determines where we go and how our lives unfold (Proverbs 16:9).
He desires that we surrender our own plans to him so that we can be ready, willing, and available to go wherever he leads — regardless of whether it’s what we pictured or planned for ourselves. It is never easy to loosen our grip on our own desires, but it is the first step to experiencing the joy of embracing God’s will for us.
The Exchange Requires Faith
The disappointments or disruptions may not make sense to us in the middle of the transition — by definition, they probably will not. When we’re called to lay aside our plan and live something different — waiting in a longer season of singleness, getting passed over for a promotion at work, rehabbing from an injury or illness — it’s hard to understand why God would force us to walk this journey instead of giving us what we want.
We are not able to understand everything God does in our lives, because we cannot see from his perspective (Isaiah 55:8). We do not know what he is trying to accomplish or what mercies he is pouring out for us on this new path. Still, we can know that nothing in his plan will ultimately harm us, and everything in his plan will ultimately be better for us (Romans 8:28).
As each step unfolds, we are called to trust that God knows what he is doing and that he is taking us exactly where he wants us to be (Proverbs 3:5–6). Therefore, we have the choice of either trusting in our own understanding by continuing to try and force our own plans to work, or we can choose to trust God and ask that our desires be transformed into his desires. By his grace, we are empowered to forgo what we once wanted in order to say “Yes” to what he is asking of us now.
The Exchange Requires Joy
Stepping forward on a path different than what we would have chosen is intimidating. Often the way seems impossible to us. The Lord calls us to believe that he will provide and make the impossible possible.
Through our weakness, he promises to put his glory and strength on display (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we ask him, he will call our attention to all the ways he has provided before. He will remind us that he can be trusted to give us what we need, even if the path may be unclear or uncertain (Hebrews 13:20–21). And no matter where he takes us, he will be with us every step of the way (Isaiah 41:10).
God’s plan is not about depriving us of good things. He delights to give his children good gifts. He also desires, above all else, for us to follow him and delight in him.
Sometimes God will make us sacrifice something we want to secure our heart for the greatest good: himself. It’s okay to acknowledge that change and disappointment are hard. But we also know that what we will be given instead is much more valuable than any goal or plan we could have created for ourselves.