“For I know the plans I have for you”? My problem with Jeremiah 29:11

It’s pretty much everywhere. Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ saith the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I walked through the Christian bookstore and it was all over the place: on plaques, key chains, bookmarks, greeting cards, clocks and Bible covers. I scoff: “My life doesn’t feel much like a plan…”  

I grab the book I wanted to add to my Bookshelf of Desperation. And hand the latest addition to the tidy sales clerk.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.  Would you like to try again?” she says quietly.
Swipe again.
“I’m sorry.  It’s saying ‘insufficient funds.’”

Horrified, I crawl to my car, choking down the lump in my throat. I’m mad at myself and embarrassed. I say out loud to my windshield, “Right. ‘A plan for me to prosper.’ I can’t even afford a book about getting closer to God.”

The really bad chapters of life seemed to be behind me for the moment. Like a bear waking up from hibernation, I was cautiously crawling out – ever on the alert that something horrible might be right round the corner. I’d made it through a 20 year marriage that had more rough days than good. Made it through the divorce proceedings and all the side dishes that come with that for free. His quick rebound re-marriage. And just when my head was starting to clear, he decided to take his own life with a gun. I was now raising our two teenage sons on my own. The innocent victims. One had been pretty sick. The other wasn’t grieving at all. Money was really tight. Sometimes I’d come home from a long day at work and be so happy the heat was on and there was milk in the fridge. Go me.

I had hoped God’s “plan for me” was a lot prettier than what it was turning out to be. It certainly looked better in my head. In defense of my plan, it was a good plan. It centered around a Godly marriage, a Godly home and raising kids in a God-honoring way. There was a lot of God in my plan. If He were a teacher, I think He’d have given it an A. Even when the marriage started to sour, I was ready for a new plan that involved winning my husband over with the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  (1 Peter 3:4)  Nice plan. But Satan had a different plan: To destroy a family and try to take down my faith with it.

Then there’s this verse…everywhere.
Staring at me.  Almost mocking me.
The Enemy snuck the thought into my head that this verse was for everyone, but me.

I would see people all around me who seemed to be prospering. God seemed to have a fantastic plan for their lives. And I’m not talking about people who were living for God. Or even people who had come through a major life battle and now things were on the upswing. No, I’m talking about people who lived lives that would range anywhere from immoral (on anybody’s scale), to careless, to arrogant. People who were unwise, unkind and undisciplined. They were enjoying fantastic, healthy relationships. No money problems. Some were getting married again to fantastic new husbands that loved and adopted their kids. Careers were thriving and, of course, their kids were doing great. They were healthy, and getting good grades. To make it sting worse, these people would throw out a casual “praise God” in order to sprinkle a little humility on top of their gourmet life.

My soul hung its head and quietly whispered…
“Where’s my plan? Will ever prosper?”
But what came out of my mouth was, “I’m so happy for you.”
I wanted to take every plaque with Jeremiah 29:11 on it and smash it up against the wall.

Sorry if this is your life verse.
I’m half happy for you. Half jealous.
But for me, it just wasn’t working out that way.
This didn’t feel much like a plan and I know this wasn’t prosperity.

To be fair, I decided I should probably read the surrounding verses before I went to smashing plaques. I discovered that God wasn’t even talking to an individual. He was talking to the Israelite nation while they were in captivity. In short, it seems He was telling them to “bloom where they were planted”. His plans for their prosperity would be that they would return from captivity to their homeland. The plan for YOU was for you – the whole nation – not individuals. Christ was coming through this nation. So that needed quite a plan. Clearly, not talking to me. I felt a little more justified in my bad attitude.

I decided to keep quiet about my problem. But I couldn’t shake the story I’d heard of Jim Dobson. Not James Dobson, author, Christian psychologist, founder of Focus on the Family, and the man once referred to as “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader.”

Not him.
His Dad.

Jim Sr. was a preacher with an on-fire ministry. He was in high demand as a speaker. If a church wanted to book him, the wait was four years. He and his wife decided on a system of a few weeks travel and a few weeks home so that he could continue to be a family man and raise Jim, Jr. who was a teenager. Things were working great. It seemed the Lord’s hand was on Jim Sr.’s “plan”. But Sr. got a call one day from the wife. Strong willed, Jim Jr. was being a little snot to his mom. She told Dad she needed him. Jr. was listening in the other room, unbeknownst to them.  A few days after Sr. got home, there was a “For Sale” sign in the yard. Sr. had cancelled all of his bookings for the next four years. He’d accepted a pastor job at a small church in a different state. So they moved away and Sr. pulled out of everything. He pastored this small church and mentored his son until Jr. was off to college. By the time Sr. returned to all the invitations, many of his connections had retired. The remaining ministry leaders had moved on to something else. The momentum was gone. His ministry never recovered.

I wonder if anyone quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to him at that time. I hope not. I hope they didn’t say that God had a plan for him.  And that this plan was for him to prosper. If they did, I hope he punched them in the nose.

We know the whole story…now. That the strong-willed, disrespectful teenager grew up to be an amazing ambassador of Christianity. Between all the books he’s written, speeches, radio show, and his Focus on the Family ministry, he has influenced millions of Christians all over the world for more than 30 years.

The price was high to raise such a son.
So worth it…now.
But Jim Sr. didn’t know that.
All he knew was that he was flushing the toilet on a thriving God-honoring ministry to come home and parent a disrespectful kid. Fun stuff.

I treasured this story.
Jim Dobson, Sr. was a thread.
And so, I keep asking myself, “Am I ok with that?”
Am I ok with being just a thread?

Like Jim Dobson Sr., I’m probably just a vanilla colored thread in the beautiful tapestry of life. This whole “plan for me” might look like me being a mom – now a coach – of my two sons who I call diamonds-in-the-rough. Or maybe part of the backup plan was for me to patiently re-marry and finish life standing side by side with a very Excellent Man, serving a few people along the road. Or maybe even to help some shepherds who are feeding a flock of God’s people.

The next few verses in Jeremiah 29 are much more intriguing to me:

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.”

Now this I can live with.
“I will be found by you.” I love that.

Like playing hide and seek with a toddler, I think God’s plan for me is to find Him. To keep looking for Him always. Whether I’m in my car crying over “insufficient funds” or setting aside a few evening activities so I can help a sick kid through high school. It’s not very flashy. It has no glitter or sequence. Bummer.

But it’s my thread and I want God to find me there.
Actually, I need him to find me there.
And He says, “I will be found by you.”
Maybe He’s still talking to the Israelites. But I’d like to borrow this verse.

I want to be really ok with my vanilla colored thread.
I’m starting to slowly back away from the magnifying glass I’m holding on my little thread.
I’m backing up, backing up…
And as I broaden my view…wow!
Have you seen this tapestry?
It’s an amazing, beautiful, extraordinary tapestry we call life.
And look at me! I’m a thread!
Go me.


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