by Dr. Catherine Beals
Since I was 12 years old, I believed the first spiritual law that said “God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life.” I believed this in a very literal way and thought that “God’s Plan” was very specific. I thought God orchestrated events in my life to lead to the place He wanted us to live, the church He wanted us to attend, and the job He wanted me to have. I believed that God closed doors He didn’t want me to go through and opened the ones He did. I never felt that I was controlled by God. I had a choice whether to go through the doors He opened or not. But when I didn’t get a job, I would rationalize it by saying, “it must not have been God’s will.”
This way of believing worked for my husband and I for many years. It brought us happiness and fulfillment. We have been very blessed by what we see as God’s provision in our lives. We enjoyed giving back to others all that God had given to us through ministry at our church and at the Christian university where I worked. During my 25 year career in education, I had always believed it was God’s plan for my life to go back and work at this Christian university I had graduated from. I believed it was my calling to teach future teachers. I had worked many years to earn the degrees I needed to be qualified to work in higher education. During my first few years working there, I felt I was living not just my calling, but my lifelong dream. I believed I was following God’s plan for my life. Then it began to fall apart.
It is hard to adequately describe the perfect storm of events that occurred in my life all at once. Our university went through a very public conflict over the firing of Dr. Oord. I believed that his firing was unethical on the part of university leadership and was dismayed at how he was treated by the administration and Board of Trustees. It deeply affected me to watch what some call “the machine” of organized religion in action. I saw behaviors on a Christian campus that were devastating to me and caused me to question my faith. It seemed religion was about denominational control, image, exclusion, conformity, power, money and numbers. I saw arrogance and hate, not compassion and tolerance for diversity. I was completely disillusioned with the church.
In addition to all of the other controversy on campus, my department had been greatly downsized. I was working for all new leaders who had not hired me because the team I was originally hired to be a part of had all retired. I was not fitting in well with the new team. They made it clear to me and others that they didn’t see value in my contribution to the team. Some suggested I look for another job. It was demoralizing to be treated in a disrespectful way, especially in what was supposed to be a Christian environment. My colleagues had a very different vision for the future of our department than what I believed about preparing good teachers. I ended up being assigned a role in my department that I had never applied for and didn’t want. I didn’t see any way my role would change for the next several years. I felt called to lead, but didn’t see any way to fulfill that calling at the university. I was incredibly confused. I was so sure that working at this university was God’s plan for my life, yet I was very unhappy and professionally unfulfilled. There were also events going on in my personal life that made dealing with the conflicts at work very difficult. I just didn’t know what to do.
I felt that my only option to find the freedom to be the person and the leader I believed God created me to be was to leave this university that I loved. That broke my heart. I had spent my whole life devoted to this dream – one that I wholeheartedly believed was God’s plan for my life. My entire life was built around my work and ministry at the university. I couldn’t picture what life could be like outside of it. I was scared, confused, and hurt, but I was also angry at the church. I felt the church had betrayed me. I was wondering if I even believed in Christianity anymore. Well meaning people suggested perhaps it was “God’s Plan” for me to leave, but that went against everything I believed in my heart. God’s plan was not making any sense to me. Then, in the words of a Toby Mac song, “love broke through.”
Through reading The Uncontrolling Love of God and hearing Dr. Oord speak, I have come to understand that “God’s plan” for my life is a much larger concept than I previously understood. I now believe that “God’s Plan” is simply to live a life of love. It isn’t a specific script or planned path for my life. I can follow “God’s Plan” in a variety of ways. It is not bound by denominational, cultural, organizational or geographical boundaries.. Oord says, “God relentlessly expresses love in the quest to promote overall well-being.” (p. 161) I realized that God loved me as His unique creation. The Spirit’s plan for me was not to stay in an environment that was not healthy for me. God’s Plan for me was to follow love. Oord says, “God providentially calls all creation toward love and beauty.” (p. 94)
I now have a new job that I love outside of the university. My leadership role in public education allows me to promote the well being of teachers and students every day. I am still living the calling I felt on my heart 20 years ago to teach teachers. I am finding joy in what I call God’s Plan B. I have rebuilt my life, being guided by love for my family, love for my work in the world and love for God. I work with loving people from a variety of religious affiliations who bring out the best in me. Oord says, “We can be God’s partners and co-conspirators by following the Spirit’s lead. God’s collaborative love seeks all who want to work for well-being, which is God’s purpose (Rom 8:28).” (p. 165) By following love and the Spirit’s lead, I was able to find my way through this very painful season of my life.
Dr. Catherine Beals is the Administrator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Kuna School District in Kuna, Idaho. She is an alumni of Northwest Nazarene University and holds advanced degrees from Boise State University and University of Idaho. She is a busy mom of two teen-agers and has been married to her best friend for almost 29 years. She enjoys spending time in the outdoors with her family, especially at the beach.