Change of plan

Published on 20 Mar 2020
Give Way sign.

by Tim McEvoy

When my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer, close to a year ago, it knocked all of us in our family for six. Within seventeen days of his diagnosis my dad passed away at the age of 64 leaving all of us in a state of shock and emotional numbness. Life can involve unexpected and dramatic turns of events, stopping us in our tracks. Maybe there is a heightened sense of this for many of us at the moment.

One of the features of that strange, topsy-turvy time in our life following dad’s diagnosis, was a sense of powerlessness, of the rug being pulled from under our feet. We were not in control of events and we didn’t have much choice except to go along with them. It is normal to be frustrated, fearful and angry at such times. It isn’t easy to ‘let go and let God’.

Yet my dad really lived this letting go in those short, intense, fast-moving days and he did it with such courage and faith. This was his Passion, his ‘Third Week’ of the Exercises, and Christ didn’t leave his side for a moment.

In the end, we have to learn to let go of everything in this life, one way or another, and our hold on life itself (which might feel like a tight grip at times) is the last thing to be surrendered to God. I wonder if faith isn’t ultimately the trust that when we do let go, there will be someone there to catch us. But let go we must.

One of the things, early on, that we as a family had to let go of was our plans. Our imagined future. I remember feeling cheated, though it seems absurdly small now, of a family holiday to North Wales that my parents and brothers and I had planned for the spring, which of course had to be cancelled. Bigger things were to follow. My wife and I got married seven months later in December. I never imagined that I would be celebrating my wedding without dad present. That just wasn’t remotely part of the plan.

Letting go, I find, takes many forms. I was struck recently, by how much the disruption of plans seemed to feature in the life of Ignatius of Loyola and the early Jesuits. His God was very much one of surprises (and I’m sure Ignatius had some choice words for Him at times!).

Ignatius’ career as a soldier and as a courtier was cut cruelly short by a cannonball. The first companions never did get to go to Jerusalem – their one, big plan in the beginning – when war prevented them from procuring a ship and ‘saving souls’ in the Holy Land. How crushing that must have been. Yet it proved to be a crucial plot point in the history of the Jesuits, for letting go of that dream opened Ignatius and his companions to something larger. The formation of the Society of Jesus, as we know it, was a hitherto undreamed of ‘Plan B’ that emerged from the ashes of that disappointment.

God seems capable of turning crises and dramatic changes of plan to good. Letting go can prove fruitful. Of course, none of that makes it much easier to trust when we are living through the tumult and the uncertainty. It can be a bumpy ride. The losses can be huge and sometimes unbearably painful. But we are never in it alone. Letting go of our plans, our control, our agenda, in whatever form that takes for us – and opening up instead to God’s - can only come from grace. Grace from a God who lived a fully human life with as much loss and uncertainty and scuppered plans as our own,  and who gives it freely whenever it is asked for.