When life doesn't go as planned, I usually react in one of two ways: either with equanimity and grace—because I'm with people I want to impress—or with grumbling and complaints—because I'm with my family, and they love me no matter what. Neither response follows Paul's call in Philippians 2:14-15 to do all things without complaining or grumbling, so that I can be the light of Christ in a dark and twisted world.
For the past few weeks, my days were full to over-flowingly busy, even before life didn't go as I had planned. The beans were coming on in my daughter's garden, which means we were canning beans a couple times a week. We finished the first batch right before I went to Chicago to promote my new book Sharing Love Abundantly after it released. When I got home a few days later, there were more beans. I was fine with that, because I had planned time into my schedule for canning season.
My daughter and I were confident we could maintain the household and our job duties, even though we were short a few adults. My husband went home to Alaska for a week; my son-in-law started a second job, so he was gone more than usual. Even so, we were handling things well until the when-life-doesn't-go-as-planned thing happened: I hurt my back.
The kind of hurt that takes days and weeks to heal.
The kind of hurt that means a person can stand or lie down, but not sit.
The kind of hurt that means a person needs 5 minutes to move from stand to lie down and visa versa.
The kind of hurt that means an ice pack for 10 minutes every hour.
Had I been in Chicago when the injury happened, I probably would have responded with equanimity and grace. But I was at home, and you can most likely guess how I responded. As a caregiving parent who lives in the world of “when-life-doesn't-go-as-planned,” you probably understand my less-than-gracious response and perhaps identify with it. I hope that you, like me, want to respond in a more God-honoring way the next time your life doesn't go as planned.
While icing my injury, I had plenty of time to think and pray about how to respond rightly in the future, a luxury not often available to parents of kids with special needs. So I'm passing along what God showed me about how to respond as the light of Christ when life doesn't go as planned.
Pray. As soon as circumstances throw a wrench into your plans, start praying. Ask God for assurance, flexibility, and forgiveness if your reaction to the change requires it. Prayer takes us out of what's wrong and into God. It's also a reminder that we are not alone, and it's an invitation to walk according to God's plan instead of our own.
Prioritize. Altered circumstances require a shift in priorities. For me, that meant icing my back instead of meeting the deadline for this blog post. For you, it might mean sandwiches for supper instead of a hot meal, or listening to church online instead of attending in person on Sunday.
Lower your standards. I've mentioned this in previous posts. Forget about keeping your home and yard picture perfect, hosting the most creative birthday party ever, or sending your child to school dressed to the nines. Your child will remember your response to changed circumstances more than a clean house, a great party, or clothes. By lowering your standards, you increase the likelihood of responding with grace, rather than grumbling.
Look for good. Sometimes good things happen when life doesn't go as planned. Before hurting my back, I'd abandoned my goal of preparing for the release of the Downton Abbey movie by watching all six seasons of the television show. Resting my back in bed provided the time needed to accomplish my goal. At the end of every episode, I whispered a prayer of thanks for this bit of goodness. God's plans for us are always good, and they are often delivered in simple, kind ways. We just need to look for them.
Accept help. If someone offers to help, humbly accept the offer. Let them be the light of Christ in your world so you can be light to someone else.
Take the long view. Eternity with Christ is the long view. Our responses can point people to or away from Him. When we take the long view, we are more likely to respond to change in a way that points others to Him. The long view also brings assurance of God's forgiveness when we respond wrongly, which we all do now and again.
As a parent raising kids with special needs, you know that more often than not, life doesn't go as planned. I hope these strategies make it easier for you to respond to changed circumstances with equanimity and grace, not all at once, but bit by bit. Because our God doesn't expect perfection, just a heart to please Him more each day.
Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She's also the creator and host of the Different Dream website. Sharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman. It was released in August of 2019 and is available at local bookstores, their bookstore website, and at Amazon.