Sometimes I Wish God Had Signed Me Up for the Group Plan

smgianotti@me.com  —  October 18, 2016

I dug into my brownie Sunday as I asked him to catch me up on the last fourteen years. Jeremiah and I had lost touch after college and only recently reconnected via Facebook. Despite more than a decade of silence, we fell back easily into friendship. We’d both lived overseas, survived faith crises, never married, and felt our lives to be on the verge of something new. Neither of us expected our stories to turn out this way. Our other college friends got married, had kids, and lived in the cities they’d planned on with the jobs they’d hoped for. But not us. God doesn’t have us on the group plan. 

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I know Jeremiah and I aren’t the only ones who can feel like we’ve missed open registration for God’s group plan. Most of us tend to compare our personal slice of adversity to everyone else’s plenty. If the doctor diagnoses us with a chronic disease, every one on Facebook just glows with health. While we scrimp on groceries to pay the rent, everyone around us drops twenties at Olive Garden like it’s no big deal. When another month passes and our hopes for children get dashed all over again, another five couples at church announce their pregnancies.

 

Singled out for suffering? 

It can start to feel like God’s singled us out for suffering, that while he lets everyone else sign up for the group plan—with low premiums and fantastic benefits—we’re left facing our shattered dreams without any real coverage. For all we’ve invested in God, we don’t seem to be getting much out of the deal. 

The apostle Peter found himself in a similar situation (John 21:15-22). After his tête-à-tête with Jesus over the rooster incident, where Jesus took Peter aside to forgive for each of the three times Peter had denied him in cold blood, Jesus also gave Peter a look into the future and how he would die. 

But Peter’s relief at the total forgiveness Jesus offered only lasted a second. In the next moment, he’s concerned about fairness. What about John—would John die too, or just him? Peter wanted to be part of the group plan. 

Jesus’ response speaks to us when, like Peter, we’re tempted to believe that someone else has landed a better deal with God than we have: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (v.22). The intriguing thing about Jesus’ response is that John would die, exiled on the island of Patmos, but Jesus didn’t say that because he wanted to address Peter’s heart. When it comes to God’s work in our lives, there is no such thing as a group plan.

 

Looking like Jesus, as only you can

We do ourselves and our triune God a disservice when we think that joining a group plan would better than the life he’s given us. God loves us too much for that. His love ushers us down tailor made paths and prods us towards specifics hardships that he’s scrutinized before allowing into our lives. Each of us, created in his image, is too gloriously unique to warrant cookie-cutter treatment. Instead, God intends to refract his glory through each of us until the world can catch a glimpse of Jesus that can only be seen through a Jeremiah, a Shannon, or a you that has been shaped by God (2 Cor 3:18).

When we insist that God sign us up for a group plan, we begrudge the Holy Spirit’s creative license to make each of us into the masterpiece his love envisions, and we limit God by the smallness of our dreams. In a sense, demanding equal treatment means asking God to love us less, since his work in each of our lives takes into account the potential in each of us that only he knows how best to unleash. 

Some of that creative work involves shaping us through hardship, training us through disappointment, and pruning off the parts of us diseased by sin, but God isn’t some insurance company CEO trying to make another buck off our lives, he’s deeply invested in us, shaping us into someone unique, someone glorious, someone that reflects Jesus as no one else can. Why would we trade that for a group plan?

 

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7 responses to Sometimes I Wish God Had Signed Me Up for the Group Plan

  1. Hi Shannon, I enjoyed reading your blog above. I think you are absolutely correct to say that people in general, including Christ’s followers, tend to see the world around them by comparing what others have and what we don’t have and how our lives could be “much better” IF we had what others have. The question is where does that stop? How much do we need to have to feel “complete”? The prince of this world has blinded us to see things horizontally, looking from side to side. comparing our finances, our looks, our gadgets, our accomplishments, our friends (how many friends like our Facebook posts compared to other posts etc) have caused us to feel we lack in happiness. Being loved by God Almighty has not fulfilled our hearts with complete contentment because we steered our goal of life on the earth to having better possessions than others when all we needed is God. One verse that is very difficult to fully grasp is found in 1 Peter 1. The entire chapter begins with who we were before Christ and who we are in Christ. In 2 Peter 1:3 Peter lets us know that we have “everything we need for a godly life” through Christ. How do we keep our hearts in full contentment? Jesus said it best in John 15:10-11, asking us to keep His commands to love one another as He has loved us so that our “joy may be complete.” If our eternal destination does not depend on what we have on earth but rather what we do on earth for God’s kingdom, should we strive to achieve those goals? We have just retired this past June and we are looking for where the Lord would have us in the future to serve Him and His Kingdom. I too want to keep things earthly bound at times, wanting freedom and comfort that this world can offer, but I know that our Triune God is at work even today (John 5:17), so why should I rest when our Lord is working? But, for the rest of this year, I asked God to give me time to rest and breathe a little….
    Sending you a big hug Shannon!

    • smgianotti@me.com October 18, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      Insung, thank you for sharing these thoughts! I love the idea that seeing everything on a horizontal planes blinds us to the love of God and how he’s given us everything we need and finding our contentment with him. All the best with your transition this year into retirement and a new phase of living for God!

      • Thanks Shannon! We will be moving to Alexandra VA in December and once we move, I’m going to continue with my seminary study at GCTS. I’m inspired about your blog posts!

  2. Another great article. I loved the reference to “group plan” but how it tied in with the Lord’s response to Peter…”What is that to you.” Thanks for writing Shannon.

  3. Another article which “hits” all of us.

  4. Thank you for writing this, Shannon. It is such an accurate description of how most of us see our lives. In this Facebook generation where everyone can choose which life they can portray, we tend to see ourselves outside the “group plan.” I think the truth is: there is no group plan. God is brilliant and unique. His plan is always for the individual. And I think the Bible shows that suffering is a part of it. So we see our friend’s Facebook page and feel separated from them, but that is just because they didn’t post their suffering online. Which I also understand. The friend with the perfect job and perfect spouse, perfect health and perfect spouse, also has things falling apart somewhere. Sometimes they may have the greatest need for someone to walk through their suffering with them, because if they are hiding it, then they are suffering alone. But this is not a piece about them, is it? It’s about us. So, thanks for reminding us that God’s plan for us is unique and He is walking through it with us.
    AND I love that your description of excessively successful restaurant-going is Olive Garden.

    • smgianotti@me.com October 18, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Haha, yes, Olive Garden sort of made me laugh too when I wrote it. Hey, they’ve got some serious Alfredo. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You’re insight about how social media complicates this issue and separates us from each other and the love/support the body of Christ is meant to give each other is really profound. I’m going to have to think on that some more. How do we work against this on social media? Should we? Or just prioritize in-person real-time conversations with our faith family?