Following the Leader: How to Stop Planning Your Own Life

The water was cold. Some of the other details are fading from my mind now, but I remember that. It wasn’t deep—most of the time, it just came partway up my calves, though other times it came up to my thighs.

Something about the narrowness of the corridor made the water seem deeper, though. The walls pressing in on both shoulders made everything seem deeper in fact, more mysterious. The surfaces were rough beneath my fingertips, uneven marks made by millennia-old chisels.

The thing I remember most, however, is the darkness. Without the headlamp of my team member behind me, the inky blackness would have been total, overwhelming. But the lamp illuminated a few feet in front of me, and in front of that, another team member’s flashlight lit another few feet. Together, we formed a chain of bouncing rays of light, trusting each other to push back the darkness just a little further.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

That was almost five and a half years ago now. The location: Hezekiah’s Tunnel, under the City of David, outside modern day Jerusalem. The occasion: a three-week study abroad trip to the land where Jesus and other biblical figures once walked.

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The details I describe above—the cold of the water, the narrowness of the tunnels, the bouncing lights just ahead—are what I remember feeling and noticing at the time. But the thought that has been swirling around my mind recently has less to do with any specific sensation and more to do with the people I experienced it with.

Ahead, someone exclaimed in surprise as the water grew suddenly deeper. “Careful, it’s narrow,” someone else warned. And so we continued our journey, each following the light and lead of the person in front of us.

I like to know what’s going to happen next. From the time I was a toddler all the way through grade school, my parents were always careful to tell me our plans a week or two in advance so that I could mentally prepare for whatever we were about to do. They helped me think of fun things we were planning to do soon, so that I could look forward to them and not get stuck in the harder circumstances of the present. I made to do lists, checked days off of calendars, and occasionally read the endings of books first when the not-knowing of the middle grew too much for me to bear.

I didn’t do quite as much of this in high school and still less in college. I still made my lists and transferred assignments from my syllabi into my planner, but spontaneous social events were no longer stressful, but fun. Still, life held a sort of predictable rhythm, with classes, weekends, and school breaks all playing their bars and measures in that song.

Life doesn’t have that same rhythm anymore. Many people have the set schedule of a 9-to-5 job to structure their lives around, but while being a freelance writer provides many wonderful benefits, a stable schedule is not one of them. I have a basic idea of what each day and week will bring, but no set-in-stone guidelines and no end-of-school date to mark my calendar with the knowledge of when this period of life will end and the next begin.

I won’t lie—sometimes that instability of not knowing what comes next has made this past year really hard. But I’m starting to wonder if comfort in life has less to do with knowing what comes next and more to do with trusting the One who is traveling ahead.

At the end of the tunnel was an inscription, detailing how Hezekiah’s men in one half of the tunnel heard the voices of their co-workers crying out to them from the other half. They continued chipping away until they met in the middle, allowing the water to flow through and saturate a city fearing siege with the promise of provision.

Hezekiah's Tunnel Inscription

Anyone who stands at the meeting point of the two tunnels, however, can see that the men did not in fact meet exactly in the middle, as the inscription suggests. For at the conjunction, the ceiling suddenly raises from a few inches above the head of an average man or woman to fifteen feet overhead. The two tunnels overlapped each other, and the workers chiseled from above and below to meet.

Sometimes we chisel away at the impenetrable rock of life, hoping to find open air and sky ahead. Our efforts rarely work out as planned. But the One who chose us always provides a way.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is the question sometimes asked of young adults in today’s culture.

I don’t know. I have no idea where I’ll be in five years. And to be honest, a pretty big part of me would still prefer that I did know. But the other, smaller part of me is slowly learning to listen to the Voice that says, “It’s all right. You don’t need to know everything right now, because I know and you can trust me.”

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. – Isaiah 29:21

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