My wife and I sat down the other day to make some plans for the future. After considerable discussion and some misgivings we decided that we planned not to live forever.
That simple decision made other plans much easier. If we aren’t going to live forever—at least here on this earth—what do we want to do while we are still alive and remembered who we are?
We have traveled a lot over the years, so a cruise up the Mississippi or along the Alaskan shoreline didn’t really get us excited or seem like a good plan.
A road trip on I-35 gets us much more excited and takes considerable planning—is our auto and life insurance up to date? Are others aware of our trip? Should we post our plans on the internet?
Our knees and backs can’t take sitting, standing or walking for long periods of time, so planning trips on an airplane, ship, bus or train are out of the question. Planning to gaze at the Great Wall or Machu Picchu doesn’t appear in our plans either. Of course, we can get anywhere that tourists frequent by means of a virtual tour on TV, so why waste the money and worry by actually leaving the house? I’m not sure if driving somewhere to a Texas State Park or local town would count as going somewhere, so I’m not planning on it.
Some years ago when we spent 5 months in Mexico we did get to see a lot of Mayan (and Aztec) ruins and pyramids and (somewhere) we have pictures to prove it. Visiting ancient ruins has a certain archeological appeal, but we didn’t plan carefully for many of the things that we have done or seen—they were part of our training program. In addition, our plans have always been somewhat constrained by the pocketbook.
When I was in an administrative role, both in Papua New Guinea and in the U.S., my superiors would ask me for a 5 year plan. I would dutifully describe all of the wonderful things I hoped to do over the next 5 years—I would plan, plan, plan. It was not difficult to dream about the future, but I was always glad that no one seemed to follow up and ask me what had been accomplished.
I would read books on planning, find charts, organize graphs and prepare colored diagrams. Given some money and the right personnel, nothing was too difficult or impossible to plan in the future. Our bosses would read and comment on my plans, insert a note here and there, offer some encouragement and reassurance, and then I would wait a year before planning again.
It follows that I am quite aware of the planning process: my plans showed cost effectiveness, an envisioned future, dynamic processes, a timeline with my course of action, even a hint at accountability and, above all, a mention that all was sticks and straw if God was not somehow aware of the progression. I think I became a pretty good planner.
When I was the Vice President for Academic Affairs in SIL International—a position I held for 5 years—I would report regularly to the Board of Directors. Most of them were successful business men (and the occasional woman) and had done a lot of planning themselves. Most of them were enthusiastic supporters of the plans I submitted but none of them ever met with me to discuss how the plans were going.
I did have one colleague—an academic peer, but not a Board member—who wanted to meet with me weekly to go over my plans. We would spend over an hour as he reviewed, discussed, even prayed about my plans. It was helpful and reminded me how necessary it is for “outsiders” to look at one’s plans.
But back to the issue on hand: about my wife and I planning for the future. We started with funeral arrangements—it seemed like a good topic to investigate at our ages—but it soon got a bit melancholic, so we decided to tackle something more unwieldy, such as planning on what to get the grandchildren for Christmas or reviewing our medical appointments for the next month.
I began to realize that we may not be very good planners. Perhaps we are more like foragers, cultural nomads who work from day to day, planting when it is not raining and harvesting when the crops appear. We probably mirror the great philosopher of the book of Ecclesiastes who said, among other things, that “[e]verything that happens was already determined long ago….” (6:10a) and that “[no] one knows anything about what lies ahead of him” (9:1b).
Given all these misgivings, I still like to plan—it has somehow gotten into my brain that life will cease or at least become unnecessary if I don’t plan. So this week I am planning to go grocery shopping, buy some gas and workout at the Y. I also plan to do some reading and writing, paint a picture and, hopefully, see my family. These are not big plans, but they are ones I can handle.
Fortunately, I don’t have any supervisors to approve them. Oh, I forgot—my wife wants to know what we have planned for this weekend.
I was planning on her telling me.