By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
Last week I was supposed to be on a plane, heading home to California. My husband’s four-month project in Nairobi, Kenya, should have been completed. Today our family should be resettling into a comfortable, familiar life, full of family and friends and some semblance of normalcy.
But we’re still in Kenya. Instead of packing for home, I’m preparing to enroll my son in another term of preschool here. Instead of being reunited with loved ones, I am anticipating four more months of loneliness and isolation.
You’d think I would be used to this by now. It’s been about eight years since I’ve been able to plan my life in anything more than three-month increments. That’s when my husband and I went all in with his multinational startup, setting aside everything else in our lives to move to China.
Since then we have been on a wild ride of business successes and failures; opportunities and slammed doors; and nearly annual moves, both across town and across the world.
The company, and what it has asked of us, is perpetually changing, evolving, pivoting. Our personal lives pivot in response. Nothing feels certain or established.
When I was younger, I thought one of the ultimate signs of being a successful adult was to reach a point when I had everything figured out. I would know exactly who I was, what I loved doing, and my life would be organized accordingly.
But my thirties have turned out to be nothing like that. If anything, the only thing I know for certain is how little I know—about myself, let alone the rest of the world. I have little sense of where in the world I will be located or what I will be doing in just a few months.
Have I failed, then, at being a responsible adult? At living the way I’m supposed to? It certainly feels that way sometimes, especially as I think about the kind of life I want to model for my young son.
Yet there is nothing in the Bible that calls us toward a well-organized, well-planned life. If anything, the greatest biblical heroes were perpetually open to the call of God, willing to change their life plans in an instant.
Abraham packed up his entire household, including scores of relatives and servants, and large herds of livestock, and moved more than 800 miles at God’s command. David, with prior experience only as a shepherd, was unexpectedly anointed to be the next king of Israel. The prophets were regularly asked by God to do peculiar things—eat scrolls, wed a prostitute, lie down on the left side without moving for 390 days—with no further explanation from God as to what would be coming next.
If anything, their lack of plans, or their willingness to release any plans they did have, allowed God to invite them into more extraordinary things than they could have imagined for themselves.
To be honest, I would love nothing more than an ordered, predictable life. I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about having a regular day-to-day schedule, of being able to commit myself long-term to a stable job, of being able to live in a home for more than eighteen months.
But this isn’t the way most of humanity lives—throughout human history, and even today. A well-planned life is a construct of those of us who have fooled ourselves into thinking we can control our lives. All it takes is an unexpected illness, accident, pink check, or loss for us to realize how little we can actually control.
If there’s anything I have learned while living in Kenya, it’s that only those of us who are privileged think we can control our lives. Most people in the world must work with the circumstances they’ve been given. They have a far greater awareness of how little they can control, and instead focus on doing their best with what they have.
For me, it has been a long, painful road to learn this lesson—and I am still very much in the process. God has had to humble me significantly to break the illusion that I can dictate my own life path. Only then could I be open to learning the far greater lessons of perseverance and faithfulness. Only then could I release control of my life to a much wiser Father.
This adventurous, unexpected journey that God has me on certainly doesn’t feel comfortable. I wrestle with anxiety and frustration each time our lives take yet another unexpected turn. But predictable and well-planned isn’t what God wants for me. He wants something better, something greater than I could have imagined for myself.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer and editor who has found healing and hope through words. She is a columnist for Inc.com and regular contributor to Christianity Today and The Well. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, RELEVANT, and more than a dozen other publications. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the U.S. and Asia. She currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her online at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.