Why People Need Plans

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“Future” by graur razvan ionut

I believe humans thrive on patterns and plans, because we were created for them. When we don’t plan how to spend our time, we open a door for Satan to run amuck in our lives. Like when I went off to college, failed to implement a study schedule, and found myself floundering in all areas of life. (More on that in a minute.)

The Bible says God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

He created a six-day workweek and commanded us to rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Through the example of Jesus, God showed us that it is good to start our day with solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35). Proverbs gives us many principles about using our time wisely, including these:

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty”  (14:23, NLT).

[A wife of noble character] “works with eager hands,” “gets up while it is still night,” “provides food for her family,” “sets about her work vigorously,” and “does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:15, NIV).

Indeed, one of the most important lessons we can learn in life, and teach our children, is to use our time wisely.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Here’s a personal example that shows the dire effects of not having a plan in place.

College Flop

For years before I got to college my home life was falling apart, yet I was able to hold myself together enough to maintain straight A’s and participate in sports, music, and drama. The rhythm of high school and a part-time job and scheduled activities gave me predictability, a pattern to follow. They gave me something to count on when everything else was up in the air.

But when I was loosed on the college scene, with huge chunks of free time gaping at me each day, I fell apart. I needed to set up a study routine, and times to practice my music each day (I was pursuing piano at the time), but instead I found myself sleeping away my afternoons. It didn’t help that I was recently off depression meds.

Before three months of my freshman year had elapsed, I dropped out, suicidal. Now, having routines and schedules may not have fixed my depression, but I think they could have kept me from the drastic actions I took.

The Need for Routines

flylady“Fly Lady” and organizational expert Marla Cilley maintains that routines are lifelines. Before she got super organized, she suffered depression and rock bottom self-esteem.

Now she encourages other women to get up and put on shoes every morning, get dressed, and put makeup on or whatever you do to get ready. Doing these simple actions start your day with intention. Then she gives ideas for routines to houseclean a little every day until it becomes second nature. One of her readers gave a testimonial to this effect (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory, as I’ve returned Cilley’s book to my friend):

After my hubby died I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t had my cleaning routines in place. They gave me something to do. They gave me purpose in my day.

Purpose is key. Setting routines forces us to define a purpose–no matter how lofty or low. It’s possible to have “routines” that don’t buoy us in the long run—TV time, drinking—but those are addictions, not routines, because they control us, we don’t control them.

College Comeback

Flash forward a few years to my third try at college. I was married now, and we lived in married student housing, and my hubby worked nights. I was still covertly battling depression, but the stability of being married to a working man who very much likes his routines finally helped me implement some routines of my own.

My days had structure once again. When I was not in class, I was at work, cashiering or stocking shelves at a nutrition center. In the evenings Buc was gone, so I studied. I had little time for much else. To be sure, I didn’t really have hobbies at that time, and I didn’t really want them. I didn’t enjoy my life then, but I was feeling some stability. And that stability is largely what kept me from self-harm.

This was a better way to live, but still not a good way to live. With those routines during that period, I can truthfully say my purpose was to keep so busy I wouldn’t have time to be actively depressed, or rather, to act on my depression.

The Need for Purpose

Routines with a dismal purpose like this can only last so long. Humans need a better ultimate purpose than “to stay alive because I’m supposed to.” That purpose is to give glory to God.

But it takes time to get there. My journey to this point was slow and painful. It wouldn’t be until two years after completing my college degree that I would actually claim the purpose of glorifying God in my life. And then I would actually take joy in my days. My purpose would become not just to survive the day, but to thrive so that others might see something in me that pointed them to God.

As I wrote my memoir in 2012 and 2013, I had the insight that God gave me stability in my early twenties so I could learn to trust him again. Through the writing of that project, I realized that sometimes it takes having your physical needs met, and perhaps one person you are safe with (for me, my hubby), to free your mind of some temporal concerns so you can seek God.

When we come to that point, or when God enters our lives in a significant way, it’s time to set new routines: routines that are even more life-giving than basic routines that merely keep us moving.

I’ll write more about that in my next post.

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Leaders, Followers, and The Mob Mentality, Part 2

Read Part 1

While I hold to my convictions (and sometimes snobbery) on certain movements (I will never understand waiting in line for hours to see any movie at midnight), I find an abundance of examples proving that mobs can sometimes follow exceedingly good and worthwhile things. For instance, I’ve been simultaneously reading Marla Cilley’s Sink Reflections and Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, both of which are enormously popular, but also, I think, pretty valuable: they offer advice, support, and coaching for improving one’s life.

flylady

Thanks to the “FlyLady,” Marla Cilley, I’m learning more effective ways to de-clutter my house, and because of Gretchen Rubin’s chapter on aiming higher in one’s work (chapter 3), I woke up this morning with ambitions (which I promptly wrote down) to start an actual author website in 2014.happiness project

The Downside of “Good” Mobs, from a Leader Perspective 

There is something funny that happens when I find a guru I admire, though, and maybe this is because I am a leader-type, not a follower: I get jealous of him or her. Rather than just taking the advice for what it is, I wish I had been the one to give said advice. Rather than just browsing Gretchen Rubin’s website and rejoicing over all the great tips she’s giving me, I start to feel pressured to match the greatness of her website. This is a particularly insidious part of being a leader (or the type of leader that I am) because I feel this insecurity not only when I observe “greats” in my lines of work (writing, teaching, blogging), but I feel it when I see almost anyone doing any job well.

This tendency to lust after other people’s talents hurts me more than I’m sure I want to know: Chiefmost, and rather ironically, it derails me from carrying out any task well. When I start admiring someone else’s work too much in the context of wishing I had done that—or thinking, “Maybe I should go get training for that”—I get distracted from what I’m really supposed to do.

For Example…

When I was newly married and trying to decide on a career path, my older brother came to visit us. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, but when I saw him that time, I was struck with how “religious” he had gotten, and a what a great life path he had taken—he had attended a Bible college that trained him to lead Bible studies and prepare the way for evangelistic series—and I started to feel guilty that I needed to be doing the same thing. The problem was, I was a married woman now, rooted to a definite geographical location: I wasn’t a single person who could just up and just go anywhere for college, or, for that matter, be an itinerant traveler for my work after college (like he had become). As confused as I was about my career options at the time, my brother’s path should have been a clear “no” for me. But because of my personality, as soon as I saw what a good effect taking Bible training had had on my brother, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing the same thing, and I carried that guilt for years.

Doing The One Thing We’re Meant to Do

The fact is (and what I’m learning as I read “follow-worthy” authors such as Cilley and Rubin and others, such as Bible writers who urge us to find our unique spiritual gifts), we can’t do everything—and we shouldn’t try to do everything. Rather, we must figure out what it is God has called us to do, and then do it. But how do we figure out what we’re supposed to do?

The answer came to my mind almost immediately (God is funny this way):

If you would be a leader in anything, first of all, you must submit. It’s there, all over the Bible: “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” “  (James 4:10; 2 Pet. 5:6; Luke 14:11; Matt. 23:12, just to name a few references). And let’s not forget that those of us claiming to be Christians are, by virtue of taking that title, also claiming to followers: We are followers of Christ.

So for those of us with leader personalities, we must first learn to submit to the Greatest Leader who ever lived—Jesus Christ. After that, I believe, is when we really start to find our path. As Isaiah chapter 30 puts it (and this is a great chapter to read if you’re struggling to submit or find some direction), only after we have submitted to God and allowed Him to direct us, will we hear “a voice behind [us], saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (v. 21).

I can’t tell you what you’re meant to do; sometimes I can’t even tell myself. But I know this: when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking to the world for my example (as in, I start thinking I need to become Gretchen Rubin, and not just glean some advice from her book and blog), I become frustrated, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled. I believe God has a specific calling for me that only I can do, and while others may give me some useful tips along the way, I must always, ultimately, go back to the one who can not only lead me, but live in me to help me carry out what I’m meant to do. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).