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The Perfect Plan

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

By Barb Stanley

I hung up the phone and took one of those long, cleansing breaths that parents of young adult children often take. (If you have adult kids, you know which one I mean.) Then I began to laugh. You see, my oldest son is a soon-to-be college sophomore who is facing a big life question: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” In other words, it’s time for him to officially declare a major and he is feeling major pressure. He had called me for advice. Admittedly, it was pretty awesome to be able to relish one of those rare moments when he still wanted my opinion (parents of teens and adults, you feel me.) But, more than that, I was taken back to the very first time he ever answered that question…

My son was five years old. We sat at the kitchen table with his younger brother, and there’s a really good chance that half-eaten pudding cups were strewn all over the table, and probably someone had just yelled out in agony after stepping on a Lego. Not sure about all the details, but what I do remember is sitting at the table, turning to my preschooler and asking him, “Luke, what do you want to do when you grow up?”

He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Well, Mama, I am going to join the family insurance business and work with Daddy. I am going to marry —- (the six year old girl who lived one house down.) We will buy the house next door, so that we can have you and daddy on one side of us and her parents on the other side of us. We will have three kids, and since she wants to be a veterinarian, I will drive the kids to daycare each day before we go to work. That’s all I’ve got right now.”

Woah. Both sets of in-laws on either side of you - that’s a bold plan, son.

Dumbfounded, I turned to his three year old brother and asked the same thing. ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?” He looked up at me with his own big brown eyes and said. “Be a trash truck or a dog.”

I knew at that moment that I would be buying two different sets of parenting books for this child-raising journey I was on. But, I also knew something else. This oldest of mine, like a lot of us, likes to have a plan. Now, fifteen years later, he was coming to me for advice on what that plan needed to be. And true to form, he had already done his research on different majors and thought through every conceivable option, career salary range, potential obstacles, risk percentages, and had a collection of excel spreadsheets just for fun. After telling me all he had learned, we spent a very long time talking through each choice. Which always lead, more or less, to this next question, “But what if it doesn’t go like it should?”

Eventually, I realized that what he was calling me for was not advice (a parent can dream). What he really was calling me for was assurance. Assurance that if he planned hard enough, thought long enough, and tossed and turned at night relentlessly enough, he could avoid the future pain of making mistakes. And so we talked for a long time, and ran through every scenario until finally he was ready for me to tell him what he should do and give him the absolute assurance that he wanted. And that is exactly what I did.

“Luke,” I said. “I have the perfect plan for you.” I imagined here, that his big brown eyes opened just a bit wider as I spoke. “You should take a deep breath. Pray about your decision. Make the best choice that you can, and when things go wrong, know that we will figure it out.” Bam! Turns out all those parenting books were a good investment. That was some solid mothering right there. I waited a beat to see what his reaction would be. Surely, he would counter with fifteen, well cited reasons why he needed more than that. But thensomething miraculous happened, my almost full-grown man-child said the words that every parent of a young adult wants to hear. “Huh, maybe you’re right.” (Dreams do come true!)

The truth is, no matter how much we plan and think and worry, we can’t control the future. The unexpected will pop up and change our perfect plans. We can’t avoid ever going through hard times or ever making mistakes. We can’t have assurance that life will always work out just exactly the way we think it should. But we can trust that we will be OK while we are figuring things out.

Looking back on this phone conversation now, I have to laugh again. Because as it happened, not too long after I hung up the phone, my own future came into question. Something unexpected happened and I had to make my own big life decision. And because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I also began to run down every conceivable option, risk, and potential consequence (though I skipped the spreadsheets). Eventually, I realized that, just like my oldest son, I would never come up with the perfect plan or have all the answers or avoid all the mistakes. And that was OK. I didn’t need to.

And neither do you. So, the next time you have a big life decision to make and you want the perfect plan, plan to do this instead. Breathe, pray, make the best choice you can, then trust that whatever happens next, you will figure it out. ......

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8 ........

Update: My oldest son did end up figuring things out. He has decided to major in Statistics so that he can pursue a career in Research (And yes, that does sound about right.) He also is no longer sure who he will marry, but is sure that he will NOT be inviting my husband and I or his future in-laws to live sandwich style next to him. My youngest son doesn’t know what he wants to do when he grows up yet, but he has ruled out becoming a trash truck or a dog.

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