I am a planner. Being the oldest child, I have those typical first-born qualities: reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious and controlling. My need for control plays into my need to plan. I have known exactly what I want to do with my life since I was in late elementary/early middle school. So, I don’t handle things well when they don’t go as planned. I tend to think that I am in control and forget God’s sovereignty.
More than once, God’s plan has looked different than mine. When God closes a door to something we planned on, it can be disappointing and confusing. More often than not, the things we have planned on are not necessarily “bad” things. So, how could this school, trip or job not be a part of God’s plan for me? With the pandemic, I am sure more and more people began to feel this. Why are all these seemingly great things a “no” from God? Sometimes taking a step back is all it takes to realize that God’s “no” is actually His protection in our lives. Just this past year, I saw this firsthand.
Anticipation and excitement
In order to use my time at Samford University wisely, my adviser began making plans for my junior (2020–2021) and senior (2021–2022) years the fall of my sophomore (2019–2020) year. Because I had dual enrollment credits from high school, I was ahead a semester at Samford. My advisor and I had talked about either graduating early or studying abroad for a semester in London. Obviously, I was interested in studying abroad. Samford’s semester abroad program involves living in a prime location, taking interactive courses and interning with a company in your field of study. Being an English major interested in publishing, I knew that having an internship abroad in one of the biggest publishing hubs of the world could change my career.
So I applied and I was accepted for the fall of 2020! I don’t think I could ever fully express my anticipation and excitement. Preparation for three months abroad takes time, so we started prepping to leave in August at the beginning of 2020. In February, all study abroad students gave up on-campus housing for the next semester and planned to register for classes in London. Everyone was so excited, discussing different weekend trips we would take to Ireland or France.
But then March 2020 came and the Lord clearly had different plans. The world shut down as COVID-19 swept from country to country. Samford, like many other universities, didn’t return to in-person classes the rest of the spring semester. Even with everything happening, Samford study abroad assured us that they were watching the situation and would keep us updated.
A few weeks turn into a few months. Suddenly, March has turned into June, and we got the email confirming what we already knew – study abroad was canceled. I remember when I looked at that email, I waited for the disappointment or tears, but all that came was peace, a sense of God’s presence. Clearly, this was the peace that surpasses all understanding. I remember talking to my grandmother who assured me that God had something better in store. I just needed to wait. It wouldn’t be until late November that I would realize why God gave me that peace.
‘Peace that surpasses understanding’
August brought one of the hardest trials I have ever gone through. My family experienced a great loss that we were not capable of overcoming on our own. We were forced to rely only on God for provision and comfort. Together, we went through a time of pain, suffering and transition, but the Lord was faithful, using our community to minister to us.
One night, I was talking to my friends about how I had seen the Lord working in my life and the lives of my parents and siblings over those weeks when suddenly I saw so clearly how the Lord had protected me.
By closing the door (and the window and the back door) to London, God protected me from having to choose between studying abroad and being with my family. Moving to London and my family’s trial would have happened within a week or two of each other. My family would have encouraged me to go to London, but I would have felt guilty the entire time, feeling like I had abandoned them. If I had stayed home instead of going abroad, I would have grown bitter, knowing what I missed and wondering how my life would be different if I had gone. God took that decision completely off the table, allowing me to enter that time of suffering with my family without a second thought.
God’s word teaches that man can make plans, but ultimately, God is in control. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” And Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Sometimes God steps in and closes a door, but not to hurt us or just because He can — His plan is always greater than ours. As I look back on this season of my life, I can’t help but wonder how many other times God has protected me through His “no.”