From the Student Ministry…

Don’t Plan for The Unexpected, Instead Practice How to Respond

“Simon says right hand up. Left hand up. Right hand down. Simon says right hand up. Simon says both hands down. Now, both hands up. Simon says both hands up. Simon says both hands down.

“Phew, good job! Does anyone have zero points against them, still?” I raise my hand to simulate the appropriate affirmative gesture. One hand pops up from an adult that shall remain nameless. We hold eye contact until they realize the cruel trick that has just been played. Then their hand slowly lowers at the same rate the faux shame appears on their face.

We all laugh together for a moment.

“Is this harder than you expected?”


I chuckle out: “Simon says, is this harder than you expected?”

“YES!” came a close to unanimous retort.

“Why do you think that is?…You can speak freely by the way. Why is something you expected to be easy, harder?” I prod.

“Because you don’t do what you are saying”…“Because you aren’t doing what we expected,” they say. I smile and nod.

Easy things get infinitely harder when they don’t go as planned, when the unexpected happens. The quickest response is frustration. It’s not fun to be surprised when it’s not during a game. When it’s life, when it’s our plans, and our expectations it’s not so funny.

So, what can you do for the unexpected? You can’t really plan for something that is unexpected, because then it isn’t unexpected anymore! I know people claim they can. They have multiple contingencies and options for whatever comes. I propose, however, that the people who are most successful do not just plan for the unexpected. They really do something else: they practice how to respond to the unexpected.

Some may say it’s the same; I argue it isn’t. Planning is external and involves controlling things outside of you. I argue that responding is internal and emotional. Responding focuses on controlling yourself and not trying to control everything else. Responding requires practice with self-control. Because it is very hard in the heat of the moment to not just react and go with frustration and anxiety.

So, I would like to give you one kind of response to practice with a couple of examples from our past month of Youth activities!

Choose joy; practice laughing. Find the humor or silliness of something. Find the lighthearted moments caused by the surprise. See the ridiculousness as something special and memorable. Here are two moments that I was able to do this with the youth this past month.

The first is connected to the game of ‘Simon Says’ that is described above. We had our first social distanced youth lunch on June 28th. It was small but full of fellowship. Mariah and I tried to get lunch beforehand from one of our favorite sandwich places, Jimmy John’s. Emphasis on “tried”. Usually, Jimmy John’s is there in five minutes tops. Naturally, we didn’t think we needed to give a lot of time before placing the order. With the Youth lunch happening at 12 and having only a 15 min drive, the order was placed at about 11:15. Twenty minutes later, still no JJ’s.

After a quick phone conversation, we had explanations but no lunch. The online order never showed up on their screens. However, we had been waiting for the delivery until the very last moment so we didn’t have enough time to get to the church before 12. Or we didn’t have enough time to get to the church at a safe speed.

Several prayers and only a few ran yellow lights later we were at the church only five minutes late. We fellowshipped with the Huneycutts and Samps, all the while secretly coveting their Moe’s. They both offered that under different circumstances we could have had some. But we were determined to maintain the social distancing guidelines of no shared food.

After lunch, I led them in a quick game of Simon Says. Once the game ended, we were chatting and beginning to pack up. Having missed out on a few precious minutes because I was late, I was not quite ready to leave. The clock was still a few minutes shy of 1 so I had that itch of “just one more.”  Just as I was about to push for another game, and risk violating the agreed one-hour time limit, it rained. I don’t mean it started to rain with the clouds easing into a gentle sprinkle first as a warning. No. I mean full grown, adult, storm-drops. It was only a little cloudy and even though they were gray it was still fully unexpected to have the heavens turned to full tap.

We all screamed and laughed as we bolted to our cars. It was as if God was saying, “Times up. Gotta move on. You promised to be out of here by 1!” It is a simple pleasant memory that I will cherish.

The second briefer example was on a Wednesday night. It was the second time doing a virtual game night with the Youth. I was nervous and had been setting up the different games and Zoom for half an hour before so that I wouldn’t have any hiccups. I installed a launcher, updated the game program, and even started a Zoom call on my computer and then joined with my phone so I could test the sound. I was being thorough.

6:30 came. Zoom call started. Ally, Kaelie, and Harris were all on. We chatted and joked for a few minutes. Then Kaelie had to leave because she was out of town visiting grandparents and was just briefly checking in to see how people were doing.

I don’t know what started it, possibly a stray comment about Legos and Lord of the Rings, but we didn’t play a single game. The three of us chatted for the next hour and a half about movies, Legos, books, and band. So much for my plans. But I didn’t care. This unplanned thing was so much better.

For some people not being able to follow through with a plan is hard. Like our Zoom call and not getting to play the planned games. That doesn’t bother me as much. I was happy to just joke around.

For some it’s having to cut plans short or missing out on part of the plan. That’s truly harder for me. When I am having fun it’s harder to stop, it’s harder to know that I’m missing out on something. But in either case it does no one any good to become frustrated and to waste what’s in front of you by letting the unexpected take over. Both situations are a gentle reminder that really, I can’t control the world or the people around me at all. I can only control how I react to them. I can only choose to make the best of the situation.

The youth will continue to meet every Wednesday night at 6:30 to fellowship and play games. We have planned another social distanced lunch this Sunday, August 2, and will continue to have at least one every month going forward. Weather permitting that is. I will also continue to leave room for the unexpected. I will continue to practice responding better and with laughter when plans change.

I challenge you too, during this time of frustrating unexpectedness, to practice responding in joy.