The following is a reprint of a column that appeared in The East Tennessee Catholic in 2002.
When I was pregnant with my third child, friends, family, and strangers in the mall all seemed desperate to know: “Was it planned?”
At first I answered, “I’d have to be crazy to plan this.” (I had a three-year-old and a three-month-old at the time, and my husband had just graduated from law school and didn’t have a job.) Later I came up with a truer and better answer: “God planned it.”
A few years ago I was flipping through The Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee student newspaper, when I came across a local abortion clinic’s ad with the catchy slogan THE SECRET TO A HAPPY LIFE IS PLANNING. The bold words grabbed my attention even before I realized what kind of planning was being promoted. No! I thought. That’s not true at all!
If I were to attempt to define the secret to a happy life, I’d take the opposite position: The secret to a happy life is flexibility.
Life is full of twists and turns that not even the best planners can predict. Plans go awry every day–when you are late instead of early for work because a train stopped on the tracks in front of you, when you walk to the Weigel’s with your kids only to find that the Icee machine is out of order, when Attack of the Clones is sold out when you arrive at the front of the ticket line.
No matter how complete your plans or how carefully you follow them, you can’t plan happiness. And some of the happiest moments in life are the ones you can’t plan: an unexpected rainbow seen while you’re caught in a traffic jam, a spontaneous cup of coffee with a long-lost friend, a song from your youth playing on the radio, feeling your unborn baby kicking for the first time.
Attempting to map out every aspect of our lives is saying, “I’m the master of my destiny. I know what’s best for me.” There’s no room in this philosophy for serendipity, for chance, for the hand of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus counsels us to accept the fact that we don’t control our own destinies and to relinquish ourselves to God, secure in the knowledge that HE has control: “Do not worry about your life . . . or about tour body . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span? . . . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (6:25-34).
If we think happiness lies in planning, if we’re unable to trust in God, we’ll feel angry and cheated when our plans fail. An unplanned pregnancy is viewed as an unwelcome interruption to the plan. We forget that God’s plan might be different from our own.
Abortion is all about control. We can’t control our fertility, we don’t want to control ourselves sexually, our children are little individuals whom we quickly learn we can’t control. Jobs come and go, people must eat, and rent must be paid, no matter the size of the paycheck. So much of life is uncertain and doesn’t go the way we plan or hope. But an aborting woman takes control. She eliminates her pregnancy—this flaw in her plans–and prevents a whole new set of complicating and uncomtrollable factors from entering her life.
At the time they occurred, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned many of the events in my life–but what joy I would have missed. Without the cloudy days for contrast, the sunny ones would have little meaning. Most of the blessings in my life today are the result of unplanned events.
For an abortion clinic to proclaim that “the secret to a happy life is planning” as a way of advertising its services is irresponsible and deceptive. This philopsophy ultimately leads to a closed attitude toward life–and to more abortions.
Considering everything that’s happened in the eight years since I wrote this, I’m grateful that I have learned to appreciate flexibility over planning! So what do you think? Do you know any secrets to a happy life? Should the goal of life be happiness in the first place? Share your thoughts in the comments section.