What to Do When Life Messes with Our Plans

When Things Go Awry

While a daily planning system and smart planning habits will enable us to make the best use of the time in the ordinary course of daily living, we know life doesn’t always conform to our plans. Minor inconveniences disrupt and major trials can completely derail the best of goals and intentions. Remember, “the days are evil.”1 So what do we do when life messes with our plans?


You know how it goes. For weeks you’ve been preparing for a big presentation at work only to wake up with the flu. Or you need to study for a test but your mom asks you to babysit your little sister. Perhaps you finish a cleaning project only to have your two-year-old color all over the wall—with permanent marker. Maybe you have tasks stacked up from morning till night, and a neighbor unexpectedly drops by for a long chat. At these moments, this perspective-altering thought from C. S. Lewis can be of assistance:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.2

What a difference it can make when we call to mind this biblical truth! All the interruptions—they aren’t interruptions after all. They are sovereign deliveries. The unpleasant things are God’s perfect plan for our day. Contemplating this bit of wisdom can bring a smile to our face, even when our schedule has gone off track and our to-do list remains unfinished. Because, as Psalm 118:24 so cheerily puts it: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

This is the day that the Lord has made. And he’s orchestrated every unpleasant interruption—um, sovereign delivery—for our good. Let’s pray that God will help us to remember this truth. Because Mr. Lewis was right: it’s easy to forget.

Busy Seasons

Sure, interruptions are bothersome. They can even be distressing at times. But what if our problem isn’t an isolated interruption in a single day, but weeks or months where one or more big happening threatens to crowd out almost everything else? Think Christmas . . . finals . . . travel . . . business presentation . . . start of the school year . . . new baby. How do we decide what should and shouldn’t get done and deal with the guilt and anxiety besides? Three simple principles can help us navigate uniquely busy seasons.

Separate the really-do-matter items from the really-don’t-matter items. Then take care of the really-do-matter items first. For example, when we hit hectic seasons as homemakers, Mom has taught us girls that after sitting at Jesus’s feet, we should attend to three priorities before anything else. (1) Our husband: “What one thing would please my husband the most?” (2) Our children: “What one issue in my child’s life needs consistent attention?” (3) Our food and laundry: “Regardless of how dirty my house is, or how many piles of clutter have accumulated, or whether or not the beds are made—as long as my family has nourishing food to eat and clean clothes to wear, their basic needs will be taken care of.”

Simplify the really-do-matter items where possible. Examine your essential to-do list and ask, “How can I make these tasks easier?” Take your husband’s dress shirts to the dry cleaners. Use paper products at mealtime. Order pizza for dinner.

Size up our limitations. As C.J. (Dad) likes to remind us, “Only God gets his to-do list done each day. We are not God. We are finite creatures with serious limitations.” Only God accomplishes everything he needs to do, in exactly the way he intends, in precisely the right amount of time. Only God! This truth helps us see the arrogant absurdity of expecting to complete our own to-do list. It frees us to humble ourselves and draw upon God’s strength to simply do what we can in busy seasons.

We can do the next thing because we know that God orders the seasons of our lives.

Inevitable Trials

Because the days are evil, trials are inevitable. And when they strike, the last thing on our minds is our to-do list. But needs don’t always give us time to grieve. The children still have to be fed, or the boss expects us at work, or the professor won’t delay the test. How do we deal with what needs to be done when all we want to do is sit down and cry? This simple poem offers comfort and counsel:

Many a questioning,
many a fear,
Many a doubt,
hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment,
let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows,
Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, DO THE NEXT THING.

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING.3

We can do the next thing because we know that God orders the seasons of our lives. Even the most difficult ones. As Romans 8:28 reminds us, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” John Piper comments on this verse: “If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.”4

So inside the walls of Romans 8:28, let’s take the next step, do the next thing.

1. Ephesians 5:16
2. “The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 20 December 1943,” in The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1989), 335.
3. Author unknown.
4. John Piper, “Called According to His Purpose,” audio message, October 13, 1985 (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons).

This article is adpated from Shopping for Time: How to Do It All and NOT Be Overwhlemed by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Mahaney Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradshaw.

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