Thinking of God’s Plan for us like a GPS

One of the more central thoughts in Christian teaching we learned growing up is that “God has a plan for us.” As easy as that phrase is for a child’s understanding, it can be a quite nuanced and difficult phrase to accept and integrate into one’s life as an adult. The challenges of adult life can make it hard to understand why bad things happen to us. Does God intend for bad things to happen, and for us to suffer? In recent years, I have found thinking of God’s plan in terms of a GPS has helped me to put things into a better perspective.  

Our GPS has become a critical and popular tool for being able to navigate our vehicles to unfamiliar places. We input the destination we want to reach. We see a path drawn on the map, a listing of all the intersections and the direction changes we need to make. If we deviate from the planned route, our GPS recalculates to show us a new path. We see the time it will take for us to reach our destination, a time that changes as delays or deviations happen.

Many of these same concepts can apply to our spiritual GPS as well.

The first step in navigating any journey successfully is accurately knowing your destination. As much as we choose other destinations for ourselves along the journey, the path God plots for us has a longer-term destination in mind: heaven! It can certainly be difficult to see or appreciate such far off destination. Especially when I was younger — having completed my college studies, moved out on my own and being focused on my first full-time job in the computer field — I struggled at times with seeing how my day to day life had any connection to heaven as the ultimate Christian goal.

Armed with a sense of the destination, the next step is to know the path to get there. This is where many people can experience frustration from the lack of the same kind of turn-by-turn directions as a real GPS. I recall having this sense in my career 9 years ago. I was the manager of a small technology team, and while I was moderately successful at it, I missed being able to directly contribute to writing software. I felt very little opportunity to move forward without leaving the company, which I didn’t want to do given my long service. Fortunately, with a little more time, there were changes and growth in the team that led to having the opportunity I wanted.

We have to do our best to interpret God’s path from the signs around us and our internal feelings. Blessed with the free will to choose, we create our own path, integrating our belief of God’s Will with the destinations we choose for ourselves — college, job, spouse, family, to name a few. Our natural sensibilities would want the journey to be a straight line along the shortest path. However, it is entirely possible that our route deliberately meanders, giving us opportunities along the way — to learn, to grow, to help others.

Sometimes, though, unexpected things can happen that cause our life’s GPS to start “recalculating” the route. It could come from a change in life’s circumstances, like getting a new job, moving to a new home or having a child. It could come from the actions of others, such as a difficult relationship with a spouse or family member. Or, in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it could be from the loss of work or access to normal activities. While this is happening, there could understandably be added fear, anxiety or panic while the path forward is unknown or unclear, and even paralyze us in knowing what choices to make for ourselves.

You could reasonably say that the followers of Jesus were dealing with their own “recalculating” GPSes after his death. The apostles were locked in the upper room, not knowing what to do next. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, expressing their bewilderment over all the events that had taken place. They struggled with faith, as we can as well when the path goes dark. Our fear makes it difficult to be sure about our path. At such times, both in life as in driving, the best choice is to be patient, go a little slower, be observant of our surroundings and do the next right thing. In time, our GPS becomes clear, and we have a renewed appreciation for our path and our mission, just as the apostles had new confidence and clarity after Jesus appeared to them and sent them the Holy Spirit.

One of my most memorable experiences of “recalculating” came during my college studies. At the time, I was planning to be a high school math teacher, but at the start of my second year, I was finding the education classes tedious and unsatisfying. After a brief period of uncertainty on whether to switch and what to do instead, I realized that my computer hobby could legitimately be more than just a hobby and was able to shift and focus on that.

An even better example, though, was when my wife lost her job just after Thanksgiving in 2011. It was a job that she enjoyed, and she couldn’t understand the reason for why it happened and why she was not getting responses to other job applications. During that time, her grandfather was dying of heart failure. She and her grandfather were very close and being out of work gave her greater opportunity to spent time with him and be a part of his end of life care. Shortly after he passed in January, she received a call back for a new job opportunity and was ultimately hired. As much as her future and her path were unclear during this time, she was able to stay focused on the moment, to live intentionally, and to find meaning in her days until things became clear.

Will following the “ideal path” make us happy? I do believe it gives us a strong foundation and our best chance for happiness, although there are so many more things that go into happiness and mental health. Can bad things still happen to us even along the ideal path? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us, doesn’t still desire the destination for us, and doesn’t want us to grow through the challenge. And the more we can help each other along the journey, through carrying each other’s crosses, bolstering each other’s faith, and sharing God’s love, the easier the trip will be.

Holy Week Service List

With churches still closed as the pandemic continues, many churches have taken to recording or live streaming services so congregants at home can still participate. If you are looking for additional options for the coming Holy Week, please feel free to partake in the options below.

All times below are Eastern Time.

Self-Paced

Palm Sunday

  • 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, NY 🎬
  • 11:00 a.m. Mass, St. Bonaventure University 🎬

Monday

  • 9:00 a.m. Mass, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, NY 🎬

Tuesday

Wednesday

Holy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Easter Sunday

Christian Resources During Quarantine

In many places, response to the COVID-19 outbreak is escalating from the practicing of social distancing to essential-travel only and shelter-in-place policies. Such a change of routine can be particularly jarring to spiritual practices, which often time certain on services, ministries or activities on our church campuses. As such, I wanted to gather here different online resources that readers have found meaningful to maintain their spirituality during these difficult times.

Please feel free to suggest other options in the comments. I will continue to update the page and new suggestions come in.

Holy Week resources

Video

Audio Reflections and Podcasts

  • Clouds and Sun” by Fr. Dan Riley 🔉 – Audio Reflections via Podcast

Apps

Interaction

Reading

Thanks to Hailee and Emily for their suggestions!

The Serenity Prayer, unabridged

I was looking back through some old materials I had collected during college for my website at that time. I came across this full text of The Serenity Prayer, of which many are familiar with the first stanza.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

The mandate here in the original version of the first stanza is stronger than the contemporary version. Rather than “Courage to change the things I can”, we instead should look to change anything that should be changed.

I also really like how the second stanza continues the thought but also sets the expectations for us even higher. We are called to live in the moment, accept hardship and surrender to God’s will as the means to find our happiness in life. These can certainly be challenging things at times, but we should all continue to strive the best we can!

Living the Good Life

My company gave the day off last week for the National Day of Mourning for President George H. W. Bush. While my primary intention was to continue cleaning my basement, I did take a break to watch part of the funeral and listening to some of the speakers.

I thought President George W. Bush’s eulogy of his father was a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to his father. The office of the presidency, and sometimes those men themselves, can seem larger than life. But he described his father as a simple, kind and gentle man with a purpose of living Christian values in all his walks of life. And regardless of any one person’s religion, I hope that those values of providing compassionate care and concern for our fellow human beings are something that can resonate above other priorities, other themes, other distractions.

After the sermon, Christian artist Michael W. Smith played his song “Friends”. It was very familiar to me, as a sort of theme song during college, particular at the end of each year as my peers and I went home for the summer and senior friends graduated. The friendship of my classmates and living in community with them on campus is the one thing that I miss most about my time in college. There were always people available to find if someone didn’t want to be alone, but also the ability to be alone when that was preferred. We were able to take time to be present to each other when needed. Conversations were deep. Friendship was easy.

Life after college certainly presented a significantly different dynamic, which I have found particularly difficult over the years. Friends are harder to find. Friendships are harder to make and harder to maintain. Loneliness has been more frequent.

When I occasionally reflect on my own life and history, I can find myself doubting whether I have been successful in living such a value-filled life, even though I certainly aspire to do so. It’s easy to want to measure life based on accomplishments, and I think my feeling of doubt comes, in part, as a result of trying to live a relatively simple life. I don’t necessarily push myself as hard as other people do. I don’t try to accomplish a lot of things, or to accomplish things as fast as I can. Quite to the contrary, my life has always been about performing carefully, deliberately, and with the maximum quality. There have certainly been times where I’ve declined or resisted tasks because I was concerned about not being able to do the best job. And while accomplishments aren’t necessarily a bad part of living a good life, it is probably more worthwhile to consider the kind of accomplishments we have.

During the sermon, the priest recalled an old Christian adage: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” It emphasizes the importance of living out one’s values and philosophy in his or her actions, and not simply by words alone. Rather than “do as I say, not as I do”, this is “do as I do, even if I don’t also say it”. And I believe this is an important factor towards living the good life: beyond holding those values of care and concern for others, putting those into action. By working hard to maintaining closer friendships with those people that have slipped away over the passage of time. By contributing any small portion of kindness on
a particular day to help make the life of another person better in some way: more happy, more peace-filled, less lonely, or less troubled.

And may we all encourage each other to find the good life.

For those who did not watch the funeral, below are clips of the eulogy, sermon and “Friends” musical reflection.

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