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A Change in Plans

What to do when life hits you with the unexpected

5:30p.m. JFK

I was sitting on the runway waiting for a flight to Minneapolis–or so I thought. Just after pulling away from the gate, a huge cell of electrical storms blew in. The next thing you know, JFK closes and we are engines off for two hours. Finally, the storms pass, and I hear the jets begin to warm up. We move approximately 2.5 inches, then we stop again with engines off. Then the pilot comes on: “I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans. The good news is that we will get to Minneapolis at some point. The bad news is that due to the backup from the storms, we are number seventy-eight in line for takeoff.”

Isn’t that life? We’re going 100 miles an hour one direction then BAM—there’s a change of plans. Like death and taxes, one of the few things in this life we can count on is change. It’s like the author Faith Baldwin said, “Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations.”

From the time we are born, life is in a constant state of change:

-One day you are filing papers at your job, the next day you are filing for unemployment. There’s been a change in plans.

-One day you have brown hair, the next you have brown, mixed with a few strays that look suspiciously gray. There’s been a change in plans.

-One day your son or daughter is curled up in your lap begging for a story, and the next they are standing at the door begging for the car keys. There’s been a change of plans.

-One minute your partner says you are the love of my life, the next you hear “I don’t want you in my life.” There’s been a change in plans.

-One minute you are full of vim and vigor, the next you are taking five Advil just to get out of bed. There’s been a change in plans.

We spend our lives looking for solid ground. And sometimes we look in places that aren’t so solid–like money or possessions (which will fade), or worse we turn to other people for solid ground, which many of us know from experience can be one of the most unstable, unpredictable of all places.

Sometimes I think life feels like the undulating floors at the Coney Island fun house. Everywhere you put your foot, the ground moves and shifts and changes. No spot remains constant and there is no solid ground.

It is times like these that I think about others who have lived this shifting fun house floor experience and somehow found a way to survive—even thrive. And that’s when I think about the Psalms.

Three years and seven trillion dollars later–the best thing I got out of seminary is an introduction to the Psalmist. Just pick up a Psalm–any Psalm and you’ll find any and every human trauma: war, murder, adultery, treason, theft, lust…it’s like Mad Men set in 750 BC. These were people who knew a bit about change. Yet, they survived and not just survived but flourished. And they did so, because they put their trust in what never changes.

My favorite is Psalm 46 where the Psalmist write about stuff sounding suspiciously like a script from The Walking Dead. “We will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult…The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter…the earth melts.”

There is something very poignant about reading a 3000-year-old message written by people that have gone through the very same things we are going through today. We’ve all been exiled, we’ve all lost our sense of home, we’ve all faced storms and tribulations and we all have felt the lack of solid ground. Yet for generations, they found hope.

There is hope for us too. We can't hide from change. It will happen. But we can get through it by finding a place of solid ground amidst all the change. Bottom line: Never ever expect an airline to be on time and always expect life to present us with “a change of plans.”

About the Author

Susan Sparks is a lawyer turned standup comedian and Senior Pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church.