“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage that means, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” Despite our most careful planning, the Road of Life is unpredictable. We might have driving and destination strategies, but scenic, new vistas might beckon us, or unforeseen roadblocks can deter us.
A psychologist by the name of Saul Levine describes the adage by saying, “Our best laid plans in life can be upended by unexpected changes, which could be either disappointing or exhilarating. Personal or other setbacks, losses of loved ones, illnesses or accidents, broken hearts or tortured souls, are not uncommon occurrences in our lives.”
Every one of us can testify to a time in our lives when we thought that we had the best plans laid out for the day, week, month, year — or even a lifetime — only to realize they somehow got overruled by our loving God who had a different plan for us. It can take a lifetime to realize that even though you and I know what we want, God actually knows what we need from the beginning of our life to the end, from womb to tomb.
Therefore, He gently reminds us of His providence in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call Me, when you go to pray to Me, I will listen to you. When you look for Me, you will find Me. Yes, when you seek Me with all your heart, you will find Me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot.” Jeremiah 29:11-14
This is a powerful verse from a loving God who knows what is best for us. He can see our past, present and future, and wants to point us in the right direction and lead us down the right road. However, it can be tempting for each of us to take the lead when it comes to living our lives and to choose the road that looks most pleasing and comforting to us, whether it involves God’s will or not.
I learned that lesson the hard way when I was 19 years old. After graduating from Marine Corps boot camp 40 years ago in December 1979, I was stationed in Oceanside, California, right by the Pacific Ocean. My duty assignment was great, the sky was blue, the ocean was clear, I was surrounded by friends and the money was rolling in. What more could I want out of life?
Everything was going great until I learned that I could possibly be transferred within four months to 29 Palms, California, which was nothing but desert. Knowing there was a good chance that God had the power to move me from the Pacific Ocean to the desert, I quickly went into prayer mode — mainly panic mode — asking God every day for four months to hear my prayer, to listen to my plea, and to in a sense, give me what I wanted: a peaceful, comfortable life by the Pacific Ocean.
On the day that I was going to receive my next military assignment, I had one last prayer request: “Lord, if you really move me, you will not send me to the desert.” Well — guess what? At the age of 19, I quickly found out that God didn’t love me as much as I thought He did. Within weeks of that announcement, I found myself on a Greyhound bus heading to the hottest place on earth, none other than 29 Palms, California.
I was not only angry at God for not answering my prayers the way I thought He should, I was devastated. I vowed to never go to church again, and I didn’t go for at least a few weeks. After pouting and taking my anger out on God for those two months, I realized that I needed God more than He needed me. So guess what I did? I registered there in the military base chapel, went to Mass, got involved in the church activities and made the greatest friends of my life who eventually inspired and encouraged me to enter the seminary.
The moral of this true story is that I wouldn’t be a priest today if God had given me what I wanted and left me in Oceanside by the Pacific Ocean. God sent me to the desert, perhaps to make me a little more dependent on Him and upon His providence. It worked, because during my three years at 29 Palms, California, I sat and meditated on Proverbs 3:5-6 more than I ever have in my whole life. It proclaims, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not. In all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
Now I need to focus on what I learned as a 19 year old in the military, because I am now being asked by God to pack up my tent in Tooele and to set up camp in another church in Salt Lake City. I was hoping that I could have stayed in St. Marguerite as a pastor for at least six years, if not 12, and maybe even 18 if God allowed, but as we all know, “Man Plans and God Laughs!”
I will head out of Tooele on the first week of August, and although I am a little concerned about my new assignment in Salt Lake, I am also willing to trust in God’s providence. He hasn’t let me down yet, but has opened up new doors for me during my 28 years as a Catholic Priest.
I want to thank the Tooele Transcript Bulletin, and all of you for giving me a chance to write an occasional article in the paper. Please pray for me that as I journey on this road of faith, I will continue to trust in the words that we find in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy Will Be Done!
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.