“Take a look at my wedding dress,” my friend said as she sent me a picture. I was puzzled. “Um, did I miss something? Are you getting married?” Laughing, she replied, “I meant for someday.” My friend is a planner. She’s got everything worked out for the day she marries, right down to bridesmaid dresses and where she’ll have the reception. All she needs is a groom.
She’s one of many young women I know who love to dream about the love God has in store for them and to plan their future life. Most people, women and men alike, tend to do this to some extent. We think we know where we’ll end up and look forward with eagerness to the future we have in mind. And there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about what God may have planned for us, knowing that in the goodness of His Providence, He will lead us to true happiness if we let Him.
But that’s the catch—if we let Him. This little clause is so fundamentally important that our lives will be drastically altered depending on whether we accept it. There is a difference between dreaming about our future and planning exactly what it will be, and it is crucial not to confuse the two. We may think we know what will make us happy—but, being faulty human beings, we can be quite wrong.
This paradox is beautifully explored in the little-known 1945 British film I Know Where I’m Going, starring Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller, whom some may recognize from her later role as Thomas More’s wife Alice in A Man For All Seasons (1966). She plays an ambitious working-girl, Joan Webster, who knows precisely what she wants out of life: marriage to a wealthy man and the luxury and security that will bring her. She’s not cold or heartless, but simply determined to get what she wants, and certain that if she gets it, she will be happy.
At first, it seems that Joan’s plans will come true. Engaged to one of the wealthiest industrialists in England, she finds every last detail of the day before the wedding has been carefully scheduled—from her train tickets to her arrival at the little Scottish isle where the wedding will take place.
Yet, when she is only a short boat ride from the island, her itinerary is literally blown away, in a nasty fog that prevents the crossing. Stranded on the Scottish coastland, she falls in with Torquil MacNeil, a quiet naval officer who assists her in finding lodging with some of his friends. Joan prays that the wind will rise and clear the fog. Her prayers are answered, but not as she intended. By morning a gale is sweeping the coast, and she is landlocked still. Meanwhile, she gets to know the quaint Scottish town, steeped in local color and tradition. The people, while hard-working and living simply, live every day hand-to-mouth, in uncertainty about whether they will have money to live by, or even their next meal. This abandon to Providence is something Joan, with all her carefully-set life plans, finds hard to take. “These people must be poor,” she comments to MacNeil. “Not poor,” he replies, “They just haven’t got money. . . It’s something quite different.” They are content with their impoverished lot, because they don’t demand more than what God gives them at the present moment. The result is patient, trusting happiness.
The place starts to grow on Joan—as MacNeil does. They begin to fall in love, and Joan soon realizes that her ambitions may be ruined. She tries to ignore that God has placed in her path not the rich man of her dreams, but the penniless love of her life. Love has taken her by surprise and threatens to overthrow her special plans and redefine for her success and life itself.
It is tempting to plan exactly what we want from life. Single men and women may dream up requirements for their future spouse, exactly that tall or with this kind of hair or eyes, and with a certain kind of tastes or temperament. Parents have plans for their children. Businessmen have plans for their money. Human beings set all sorts of plans for what they want, what they will do, for how things will be in five or ten years. If they demand what they think is best, they can close their hearts to the grace of God and shut themselves off from the mysterious workings of His Providence. Even in the seemingly-unremarkable path of ordinary life, we have to recognize we cannot know what is around the bend—and cannot always control what it is. It is a question of humility, of knowing we are not God and therefore cannot determine everything in our lives. If we fail to do this, we will remain unfulfilled and suffer anxiety, frustration, unhappiness—and, sometimes, unrequited love.
The greatest blessings of our lives may come as complete surprises. After all, what is a miracle but a sort of reckless and impossible surprise? Illness or health, pain or pleasure, failure or success may all be the steps laid before us on the climb to Him. We must simply trust Him enough to let Him surprise us.