I’ve never been a very flexible person. You can ask my yoga teacher, who has seen me struggle with the “downward dog” pose. Or you might talk to my fifth grade gym instructor about the day I fell on my head trying to do a back-bend. My muscles have always defaulted to rigid and stiff rather than relaxed and malleable. So it seems to go with my approach to life, too. My perfectionistic personality likes to run a tight ship – with activities and schedules well-defined so that the outcome is predictable and safe.
The problem is, of course, that not everyone on the ship always follows the same manifesto – and sometimes they rock the boat off course!
Such was the case recently where I work. I was in charge of a major event with sixty international guests and worked for months to line up all the details. I had the schedule completed and confirmed down to the minute, with activities planned, a caterer hired, supplies purchased, and volunteers lined up. The scene was set for a perfectly executed day.
A delegation gathered to welcome the tour buses, which were scheduled to arrive promptly at 9:00 a.m. And then the boat began to rock. The clock ticked to 9:10 and there was no sign of the group. At 9:15 I tried calling my main contact at the travel agency and reached an answering machine notifying me that their office didn’t open until 10:00! I tried emailing her, with no response. I was forced to notify my coworkers that there was an unforeseen delay in our guests’ arrival.
After what seemed like an eternity in limbo, I was finally able to get a hold of someone at the travel agency who confirmed there was a schedule mix up. The group wouldn’t arrive until 10:45 a.m.! My clean, beautiful itinerary page transformed into a mess of scribbles as I scrambled to re-do the schedule to accommodate the delay.
At that moment, my rigidity collided with reality. I realized I had a choice of how to respond. I could go with my initial feelings of irritation, stress and anxiety, or be flexible and trust that God would help everything work out. I also had the option of how to treat the travel agent who was behind the error – I could make her feel worse, or I could demonstrate grace and forgiveness. I chose to give up my “right” to be angry and moved on.
When the group finally arrived, things continued to unfold unpredictably. The buses unloaded on the wrong side of the building, so we had to rush to a different location to greet them. One of the caterer’s helpers cancelled at the last minute. An activity scheduled to occur outside had to be moved inside because it started to rain. Another activity I had meticulously planned was done in half the time I had allotted. A speaker unexpectedly brought boxes of items to hand out that we hadn’t planned on. It seemed like nothing in my precise schedule turned out like originally planned!
With each twist and turn, my coworkers, the caterer, and I flexed like the nimblest of gymnasts. Our guests never knew anything was off schedule. From their perspective, everything ran like clockwork. They had a wonderful experience and felt warmly received. And that’s what really mattered.
While I still believe in being organized, I am learning that there is freedom in flexibility. There will always be forces beyond my control that change my “best laid plans.” In those moments, the most important thing I can do is adapt, go with the flow, and be flexible.
Letting go of my tight control gives me and the people around me the freedom to relax and use our gifts more fully. Laying down my anger and irritation over people’s mistakes frees me from the chokehold of unforgiveness and preserves relationships. And relaxing my grip on the outcome of a situation gives God the opportunity to orchestrate divine scenarios greater than I could ever imagine.
I’ll admit it, flying by the seat of my pants will probably always be outside of my comfort zone – but I am thankful that I can trust a Master Planner who knows what he is doing. His plans are always higher than mine, and he invites me to join him in the adventure. I believe that’s what happened the day our international visitors came to town. As I waved good-bye to the smiling faces peeking through the tinted bus windows, I thought to myself, “what a great day!”
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11 (NIV)