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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Goonen

Best Laid Plans



Everyone can relate to a time when their best intentions edge along the magnificent boulevard that ends with achieving their grandest dreams and loftiest goals. As a writer, those dreams and goals often include awards, signing with that perfect publisher, and selling lots and lots of books. After all, aren’t we supposed to strive toward our best? But then we remember the phrase “best laid plans,” which conjures images of obstacles and confusing intersections along our chosen path. Suddenly, that expansive boulevard doesn’t seem quite as smooth or unencumbered, and our goals seem much farther away, even impossible. We weren’t one of the finalists for the award; that perfect publisher sent a rejection letter; our books aren’t selling. We lose hope; we doubt, and too frequently, we quit—but should we? What does the phrase “best laid plans” really mean?


Those three words are often used alone but are only part of a complete passage penned by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet(1). In his poem To a Mouse, Burns’s original quotation reads The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promised joy.


Spoken in Burns’s native Scottish tongue, the phrases seem foreign but still convey that even the most careful planning might not always produce the desired result. Translate the phrase Gang aft a-gley in English, and it reads Go often astray(2). Now we understand Burns’s meaning: we should not automatically expect our plans to succeed because there will always be obstructions and distractions to hinder our way(3).


How’s that for encouragement? Not so much, right?


Then again, why not? After all, we are not traveling our appointed path alone, nor are we expected to choose which way we go without any direction. Instead, we have a Divine Champion we can turn to for guidance, and once we set out on our journey, the same Advocate will go before us and pave the way. But there is a catch.


Jesus did not intend for us to forge ahead blindly in this world. Instead, he is there to lead us in the way already cleared for us. He tells us this in Proverbs 4:26 (NKJV), Watch the path of your feet, And all your ways will be established. He says it again in Psalm 37:23 (NASB), The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way.


The message seems very clear. We are to follow the path already laid out for us. Still, what about the way we devised? We can see our goal. It’s right there at the end. Why should we not go for it? He answered that question also. In His own words, the Lord said, Enter in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in there: Because narrow is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV)


The path we take is not one we select entirely on our own. It is not paved with our own hands, nor is it broad, brightly lit, or richly appointed. Instead, it is a narrow path we can only safely navigate if we keep our eyes on the footsteps of the one guiding us, the footsteps of our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Remember when I said there was a catch? Well, here it is. We just have to ask. Plain and simple. He will allow us to choose our own way with all its hidden dangers and pitfalls because He will never force us to do it His way. Instead, he wants us to freely choose His way; to do that, we must ask.


This simple concept applies to every facet of our lives, personal or professional, including writing. While we may not be traveling a physical path, a writer must still keep their eyes focused on the one who called them to write. If they walk the narrow road with their eyes fixed on the hem of His robe and the heels of His sandals, they will ultimately achieve those dreams and goals and so much more!




References:

(1)Grammarist, s.v. “Best-laid plans,” accessed June 24, 2022, https://grammarist.com/proverb/best-laid-plans.


(2)The Dictionary of Clichés, s.v. “the best-laid plans.” Retrieved June 24, 2022 from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/the+best-laid+plans.


(3)Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “best-laid plans,” accessed June 24, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/best-laid%20plans.

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