Reflections on Strange Gods, Chapter 7, The Idol of Plans

What follows are my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapters 7: The Idols of Plans. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.

Jacob wrestling with the angel, Eugène Delacroix, fresco (758 × 491 cm) — 1857-61

For so long I have been such an anxious worry-wart, such an intense planner that I approached this seventh chapter of Strange Gods, by Elizabeth Scalia, “the Idol of Plans,” fully prepared to accuse myself. Then I found something strange.

“There is a paradoxical kind of power in being willing to sweep away the idols we make of our plans. When Saint Paul writes that “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10), he is telling us when he surrenders the notion that he could accomplish anything on his own, he discovers that God, working through him, does wonders beyond his own meager imaginings. It is precisely the same with our plans. When we stop insisting upon them and permit God to throw us a curve, and answer it with trust, wonders come our way.”

I planned. How did I learn this? Linda Vanzzini, who is now and has been for a long time, Linda Gillum. Making plans were always framed as seeking a call or answering a call from God. The chapter opens with the Yiddish proverb, “man plans, God laughs.” I have been hearing this message since junior high when I first encountered Linda. What happened to Linda? She discerned for a long time. She entered. She was unhappy. She left. She entered a new order. She was happy. Her mother became ill. She returned to care for her. She met a man. She never returned to that convent. She is married now with four incredible children.

And what happened to me? I had her lessons and our late night retreat night chats in my mind as I grew older. I felt called to religious life. I planned in a way, but ever knew that I could be wrong. I was heartbroken when I discovered God was not calling me to marry him. But thanks to Linda and St. Therese, trust was ever the narrative of moving through life.

I graduated high school. I served on NET. I had no plans after that because I was waiting to hear if/when I would marry my Lord. I wanted to enter the Sisters of the Cross; I knew I had some home there. I attended two years of college locally and longed for community. A few steps later, we find me in Minnesota attending a new and different school. An interview with a graduate school I felt I should look into, but did not want to attend, caused me to fall in love with the school. It was logical to attend right away. God had other plans. My husband is grateful for that. I moved back.

Engaged, married, then off to graduate school. I would plan on attending the doctoral program. This was the second plan I think I ever really had, the first being to attend at all. These logical career steps, the ones I had put out there so boldly in order to defend my choice to attend such an expensive school so far away at such a time in my life. But my daughter came. We wanted to get pregnant. We wanted a child.

It was not God’s will for me to get a doctoral degree. Fully ready to accuse myself, I find, looking inward, that I have been flexible, confused at times, bewildered at changing plans, but flexible.

Scalia writes “it makes me wish the first scripture verse any of us are taught could be the line from Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, and not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope’.”

My ways are wild, compared to the way I was taught I ought to plan in my family of origin. I know better than to attribute those wild ways to anything other than the lessons I learned in that youth group and from those many readings of little Therese, and the grace of God. Where my mother might have questioned, she saw our joy and supported it, and that spurred us on. Having fulfilled so little of the “plan” I often say we don’t deserve to be so happy. I’m glad we’ve been so reckless.

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