For a lot of my life, I’ve wondered if I was messing up God’s plan for me. I’ve agonized over making THE RIGHT CHOICE—a common dilemma for someone in my stage of life where big decisions are looming. The one on my mind most often lately is where to go next with my career, but before it’s been where to go to college, whom to date, where to live, how to fulfill my calling, and so on. I’ve wondered if I’m even capable of reaching my potential. It’s tempting to think that God has some master plan that He’s measuring me against, and if I take one misstep I’ve missed my chance for happiness forever, or at the very least I’ll be doomed to walk around with the nagging feeling that I’m constantly disappointing God.
But you know what? As I’ve examined that mindset, I’ve learned that I need a better understanding of God and what the term “His plan for me” means.
I’m learning that God is much less a divine dictator who demands perfect compliance to a predetermined plan for our individual lives and much more a co-creator with us of the kind of lives we want to live. I’m learning that His plan for me is a lot less like a laser-crossed minefield and a lot more of a journey of coming to know myself and coming to know Him.
What God’s plan isn’t: My expectations of how my life “should” be
I have a lot of “should” voices in my head. They say things like, “I should be married. I should be better at this dating thing by now. I should know what I want to be when I grow up. I should have a 5-year plan and a 401k and a perfect, step-by-step plan of how to get to my dream career—starting yesterday. Because I don’t, I’m a failure.”
God’s voice, unsurprisingly, does not agree.
What God’s plan is: A journey of joyful discovery that begins where I am
Through multiple impressions, God keeps telling me that this time in my life is a period of joyful discovery—emphasis on the joyful. An impression I received recently as I was stressing over finding the “perfect career” was this: “Ariel, I don’t care what you do to pay the bills. Have fun! Explore. Do what you want to do. Just keep writing, and we will do great things together.”
Well, all right then.
I question answers like that, wondering if this is some sort of test to see if I’ll choose right and win His approval or choose wrong and disappoint Him. I stress out and hesitate to act because I’m worried about doing the “wrong” thing. What an answer like that really means is to move forward with confidence that as I act in accordance with my righteous desires, counseling with God along the way, I’m following His plan for me. God understands where I am. He is patient with my progress, and every sincere effort counts to Him. If He is okay with my learning process, I can be too.
What God’s plan isn’t: God’s will forced upon me
I’ve often battled the fear that if I committed myself to doing whatever God asked, He would force me to do something I didn’t want to do.
I told God I didn’t want to go on a mission. Nope. It’s too hard, and you can’t make me. Besides, I had a plan, and it involved finishing my education and a certain young man that I was certain would be part of my future.
I’m sure you can guess what’s coming.
What God’s plan is: Invitations to reconcile my will with His and practice trusting Him
It’s interesting—with the clearest impressions I’ve ever received, such as the prompting I had to go on a mission, God has always made it just as clear that it is my choice whether or not to obey. He knows the deepest desires of my heart and He wants me to come back to Him, and so as I seek His guidance, He shows me how to achieve those desires. He is always trying to give me what I really, truly want. But it is always, always my choice.
I had a choice to make, and I was terrified. My future had seemed so neatly laid out before me, but with the prospect of a mission, it had changed overnight. I felt much less certain of how my desires for my life would come to pass, but I knew this was an invitation to practice trusting God—trusting that He knew what I wanted better than I did and that this path would be the way to achieve those desires. I chose to serve.
So here I am, several years after my mission. I did graduate from college after returning home, but that young man got married to someone else, and I have yet to see some of my desires materialize. Trusting God is something I practice every day. Being without the desires of my heart has kept me turning to God, kept me seeking Him, and I can’t help but wonder if that was the whole point after all—to use this time in my life to come to know Him and how He works with me.
What God’s plan isn’t: Only one perfect, rigid way to live my life “correctly” with my mistakes and correct choices predetermined by God
God does not dictate every choice we make. It isn’t God’s will for us to make specific wrong choices. It’s God’s will that we have the opportunity to choose for ourselves.
Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. —2 Nephi 2:16
It’s His will that we have a safe space to learn from our own experience, so lessons can travel from our heads to our hearts. He doesn’t make me make mistakes, but there is room in His plan for mistakes because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
What God’s plan is: Jesus Christ is the Way
So often we want to know “the way” for our lives. Well, guess what? Jesus Christ is the Way—the only way to become like our Father and return to live with Him.
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not wither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. —John 14:5–6
Following Jesus through the continuous process of exercising faith in Him, repenting, making and keeping covenants, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the way back to the Father. As long as I continue in that process, I’m following the plan.
One day recently I was feeling particularly discouraged about my seeming inability to “get a grip” on my life and measure up to my own expectations. On one side of the whiteboard in my room I wrote down all my expectations for myself. Then I drew a line, and on the other side, across from each of my statements, I wrote what I felt God would have to say about it.
It all came down to this: Me learning is the plan. Me changing is the plan. And there are a lot of good ways to do that. My baptism was a commitment to keep learning and keep turning to Christ. It’s not a commitment to be perfect (and thus fail as soon as I make my first mistake); it’s a commitment to keep practicing. If I keep turning to Jesus after turning away, if I’m committed to keep learning, keep trying, and rest when I need to, I’m following His plan for me.