Faith Matters

Letting go of the plan and embracing the dream

I used to have Jeremiah 29:11 in a frame on my wall. I don’t anymore.

I was 17 years old when someone first gave me Jeremiah 29:11 as a gift: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” The verse was given to me in a greeting card when I finished high school. Four years later, I received it again as a college graduation present, this time in block letters on the cover of a prayer book. A year after that, my husband and I found the verse among our wedding gifts, penned in calligraphy and set in an elegant silver frame. For years, the frame hung on our living room wall.

“For I know the plans I have for you.” Or, to put it in language common to American evangelicalism, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” In the circles I grew up in, this “wonderful plan” was a core belief. As a Christian, I wasn’t simply saved, forgiven, and loved; I was held in the sovereign will of a God who ordained my comings and goings, my nights and my days. This meant nothing would happen to me—nothing could happen to me—outside God’s plan.

I don’t remember when I took the silver frame down. But at some point, I decided that believing in Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise to me required more than blind faith and a muted intellect; it required a suspension of my moral judgment. I could not perform the mental and spiritual gymnastics The Plan requires without twisting God into someone coldhearted and ugly.