“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
This entry was written in the form of a school essay, in the voice of a school-aged person, trying to make sense of this thing called COVID.
This guy once wrote a pretty famous line in a really popular play way back in history. People still refer to it all the time; it is so well-known that when you say it to someone, most likely, they’ll know who came up with it. So, William Shakespeare wrote this drama called Hamlet, and the main character, Hamlet, gives this fantastic monologue where he asks the all-time question: “To be or not to be?” He even says it right there, “That is the question.” I mean, let’s face it. In his lifetime, he probably encountered a lot more questionable scenarios than we have now, like the death of a father and dealing with a ghost, a friend who might poison him, a girlfriend who meets an early demise—all in, like, a week. But, these last few months of our generation have been majorly questionable, if you ask me.
Every day for the last four months, we as a society have questioned whether to leave the house or isolate ourselves from even those we love the most. We wonder whether we should wear a mask to protect those loved ones, and even sacrifice touching those same people for their own health’s sake. Let alone, wiping down every surface of the house and everything that comes into it, from the mail to the groceries. We ask ourselves if it is smarter to pay more for something to be delivered to our doorsteps so that we don’t have to walk into a store that looks nothing like it did half a year ago. Heck, we don’t even look like we did half a year ago. Masks and gloves used to be for the doctors and nurses, EMTs, and first responders. Now they are part of our daily outfits. And this could probably keep our anxieties at manageable, heck even tolerated, levels… for awhile. However, just as in Hamlet’s time, the calendar stops for no one, and we are now faced with the looming decision of going back to school. The seasons have not slowed down; the earth, thankfully, still travels around the sun, and our society is preparing for the back-to-school phase of life.
Most kids dread this part of the year in general, let’s face it. Give up sleeping in, eating whenever and wherever you want? Come on, who wouldn’t fight a structured schedule just a little bit on a “normal” day? But you see, that’s where this year is different. We are lightyears away from “normal.” This is the scene where Hamlet emerges from the background, into the spotlight on the darkened stage, shoulders sagging in defeat and head shaking from overwhelming sadness and utter bewilderment as to what to do next. And just like we want to hide under the covers and sleep away this pandemic, Hamlet struggles with the same feeling. He cries out in exhaustion, “To be or not to be? That is the question.” He asks the audience, ‘what do I do because I sure don’t know.’ He anguishes over the question of life or death. Now, most of you, at this point, may say something like, your dad’s ghost isn’t haunting you, your friend isn’t going to stab you, etc., etc., but we all are Hamlet right now. We are indeed facing a life and death question, believe it or not. Our generation’s question just looks a little different than his did.
Every single person involved with schooling is worried about what it will look like, from preschool to college. They emerge from the background, onto a darkened stage in front of a waiting audience, shoulders bent from the burden of the past few months, head shaking with fear of the unknown. The audience waits with bated breath for our answer….
but is met with, “Do I or Do I Not?” That is our question.
Let me go back even further in history to a guy named Solomon. He was a king of Israel and was really good at his job. He had made a few sacrifices to God, so the Lord asked him what he wished for in return. Solomon thought about his life, his position in society, and his family lineage. And he asked the Lord for wisdom; wisdom to lead his people. This guy had everything—he had built this amazing temple, wrote poetry with the best of them, and was a leader of a country. He could have asked for even more wealth or more nations to rule, but he asked for wisdom because he felt that he needed direction in his life. He learned that no one is perfect and will never have the perfect answer. Now, does that help our anxiety levels today? Probably not, in all honesty. But, Solomon might have known that too, because he took the wisdom that God granted him and wrote down his teachings for all future generations. When he wrote Proverbs, he created a book that dealt with living and how to make smart choices for your well-being. What does that have to do with this school year? Well, here is my theory.
Just like Hamlet and Solomon, we need to make a decision in our lives. A critical one. And as much as we want to hide under the bed until this whole thing blows over, we can’t. We are just like Hamlet and Solomon in that we have to provide an answer and be confident in our decision. And just like them, we need to remember that God wants us to make plans for our future. He actually encourages it; it is a wise thing to do. And just like these guys, we must remember that we have a minimal view of said future. So, with that in mind, the anxiety and second-guessing will come, I’m sure. But you see, that’s where Solomon’s wise words can come into play. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” So how does that help me right now?
In his monologue, Hamlet finds that thinking too much about his situation will not guide him to the answer he seeks. Overthinking will actually prevent you from arriving at a decision. Solomon said this long ago by pretty much saying that we can create our maps, but God determines where our feet go. This concept is so much easier to grasp and ultimately accept when you are not in the depths of making such a decision. While you’re mired in the mud of uncertainty, all you really want to do is yell at Hamlet and Solomon to take their speeches and, well, you know.
The only thing that I can tell you now, while we are all making this decision of whether to go back to school or not, is that I do not have the answer you seek. Just like no one around Hamlet could answer his question for him, and none of Solomon’s sages could predict his own path, I cannot tell you what your answer should be. And your answer may not be what’s best for your friend or your friend’s friend. So, why did I spend all this time making you read about a play and a king when you have such limited time to decide? You have to figure out whether to attend face-to-face classes or go entirely virtual for your senior year? Will you move back into the dorms or take a full semester off and “decide on the risks you choose to accept?” Because, no matter how we form our question of To Be or Do I, we must remember that our “best-laid plans” may not be that easy to see at the moment. I promise it will happen to all of us. We need to step back from the stage’s spotlight, away from the waiting audience, and come to God with our burdens and feelings of defeat, anger, fear, and indecision. We need to give up our monologues and soliloquies and start a conversation with the One who created us and knows us best. We need to ask for wisdom and guidance in a time when we could ask for so many material things. We need to not only ask God, ‘What do I do?’ but be prepared to listen for his voice through the chaos of life’s stage.