by Vanessa Alarcon—
I am fascinated by planners. When I see a planner display in a store, I am drawn to it. I will grab a planner and evaluate each detail, from the cover to the thickness of the pages—even the font and the precise layout. I like it when the day of the week starts on Sunday, when fifth weeks have their own separate week and aren’t combined with the fourth weeks of the month, just to name a few preferences. One of my friends recently told me she thought about giving me a planner for my birthday because she knows how much I obsess over them. Then she remembered how particular I am about them, and she got me something else instead. I will admit, she was exactly spot on.
My fondness for planning goes beyond scheduling my days; it fully reveals itself in my work as a licensed therapist. One of my favorite interventions in psychotherapy is the worry tree. The process is simple: identify your worry; decide if you can do something about it; if so, plan when and how you will take care of it and let your worry go. If you can’t make a plan for your worry, then just let the worry go. Although I love that approach, I know it doesn’t solve all problems.
On my wedding day, the pastor who presented our homily purchased a planner as a gift for my husband and presented it to him so he can work on his planning skills. A roar of laughter came from our guests. I am certain that half were laughing because they know about my excessive planner tendencies, but the other half were laughing because they know about my husband’s carefree lifestyle and how he cringes at the thought of using a calendar. As the laughing subsided, the pastor placed a gift in my hands. It was a package of correction tape for when “life does not go as planned.” I hate when life doesn’t go as planned, yet it happens so often.
Towards the end of every month, I set aside time to review the upcoming month and the tasks ahead. Truly, this is one of the highlights of my life. So, despite everything going on in the world with COVID-19, I recently opened my calendar for April: it was blank, with the exception of one day. A sticker was placed neatly on Saturday, April 11, with the words “The Spot,” the name of the youth Sabbath School class my husband and I teach. The other calendar days had correction tape over events already cancelled. I reviewed each day, asking myself, “Wait, am I missing something?” Nothing. Just empty days. No plans, except that one Saturday.
I sat there with my empty calendar, realizing my joy had been taken away. What was it that made planning out my month something I looked forward to? What was my reward? I concluded it was my false sense of power—which I have lost. I feel like I have lost control of my entire life, although I know that is not accurate, but it still feels that way. I like to have a plan, and if I don’t, I’d like to know when I can make my own plans again. I seek the sense of security I had before.
My church’s Young Adult group has begun meeting once a week to study the book of Acts. As my pastor put it, at the beginning of the book of Acts, “the disciples’ heads were spinning, and people were looking for answers and leadership.” Jesus had come to earth, taught, healed, suffered a crucifixion, rose from the dead, and would soon ascend to heaven. Jesus was in the process of leaving His disciples, whom He had spent three years guiding. Jesus promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The disciples ask, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” His response was direct: “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business” (Acts 1:6-7, MSG). And if you continue to read through the book—spoiler alert!—you will see the power they received through the Holy Spirit was more powerful than if they’d had some inside knowledge about timing.
So as my planner gets used less and less, and as I continue to forego the unrealistic timelines I usually set for myself, it seems important to look at the way the disciples were led to serve and spread the gospel “to the ends of the world” by merely receiving the Holy Spirit, not a planner.
Vanessa Alarcon is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on addiction treatment in Denver, Colorado. She also serves as the Faith Engagement Pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.