So says Woody Allen. And he’s not the only one. Tom Hiddleston, when talking about not making plans, said, “God always laughs at your plans. I’m going to … keep the page blank and see what gets painted upon it.” There’s a bit of an inside joke in the church that you should never say never, because God has a sense of humour. My mum once said she would never be a teacher, and yet she was, and she said she’d never be a vicar, and yet now she is.
Why do bring this up today, in particular?
Well, in the U.K., it is A Level Results Day. That means, for anyone outside of the UK, that 18 year olds up and down the country are finally finding their grades from end of school exams (A Levels). On these results hang the rest of your life… or that’s what it can feel like. You set your hopes on going to a particular place, to study something… and on this day, you find out if that hope can become a reality.
I didn’t work enormously hard at school; I crammed in the last few weeks to try and make up for my lackadaisical attitude of the previous 2 years. It didn’t work. My envelope arrived, with C, D, D, D, E. I needed A, B, C to get into my preferred university. In fact, I needed C, C, C to get into my second preferred university. Thankfully, when I rang my second preferred university, they said it wasn’t a problem and they looked forward to welcoming me in September. What a relief!
A year on from my results day, and I remember suddenly feeling anxious. I’d taken a year out between school and university, and I’d realised that I might prefer to do Primary Teacher Training. Perhaps stay closer to home. But I didn’t. I went off, as previously planned, to the university furthest away from my parents without leaving the country. And oh what an adventure began.
Now, it didn’t feel much like an adventure at the time. It was a very intense 2 years: I made mistake after mistake after mistake. I made so many poor choices, and was balancing each day between deliriously happy and thoroughly miserable. I made some great friends, the best in fact. But none of the plans I had made became a reality.
I was meant to go to university, learn new things, experience life and meet new people – maybe even meet my future husband. In reality, I didn’t study well, I didn’t graduate, I left university after 2 years and came home to live with my parents. I found myself back working 9-5 in a retail job that was enjoyable, but left me unfulfilled. This was not the plan on results day. This was not the plan I had for my life.
And yet now, 11 years on from my results day, I thank God for those years. I learned so much about myself, what I believe and the kind of person I want to be. If you had told me at 18 what I would experience in those first 5 years after leaving school, I’d have thought you were bonkers. Now, I am not sure that God wanted me to experience those painful things. But I am sure that he was there the whole time, calling me back to him, to his plan for me and my life. All I had to do was turn to him, lean into him.
Of course, being the massively flawed human being that I am, I didn’t really learn that lesson the first time. Do we ever? But over the last 2 years I have come to know that when it says, “But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge,” it is true for me too.
In life we are faced with choices that will have a ripple effect across our lives (and others’ too). At school, I chose to not do my work. At university, I chose to spend my money foolishly and focus on the social side rather than the study side. But at any point we can say, “Enough! Let’s do things differently.” For me, that was coming back to God and reaffirming my faith. Life still hasn’t turned out as I had planned (I definitely didn’t think I’d be married or have a child before I turn 30), but I’ve learned to let go of the plan and trust in God.
If you’re receiving your results today, I pray you will know this will impact the rest of your life, but not in the way you can predict now. I pray you will be able to celebrate whatever this means for the next chapter in your life, and to see it as an impending adventure. And most of all, I pray you will pick yourself up when life gets hard, lean on those you love, and find truth in the most unexpected of places.