You’ve heard it before…“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
This rather proverbs‐ish saying comes from the Bible in Second Hesitations 13:6.
Actually, Woody Allen, the not‐so‐proverbial and not‐so‐biblical comedian, is credited with saying it. He appeared to reformulate the Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” Both versions make us laugh because they express a truth we grasp. Reality diverges from our plans quite significantly.
Upon further reflection though, I’m not sure laughing is the reaction God has when we inform Him of our plans.
Perhaps we should say, “If you want to make God cringe, tell him your plans.” Or, if you want to make God frustrated, tell Him your plans. Exasperated? Maybe even angry?
I’m not adept at guessing the full range of Almighty God’s reactions, but I would wager a sigh is more likely than a hearty guffaw.
For someone like myself that tries to help clients with financial planning, this divergence between plans and reality presents a problematic question: Should we even plan at all?
The process of planning provides benefits: starting discussions with family, seeking counsel from others, considering positive and negative outcomes, counting the cost, or pausing before rushing ahead.
Rarely though have I seen much discussion about the limits of planning. In fact, many in the financial planning profession emphasize how they “focus on planning.” That’s sounds fine, but planning doesn’t help much with predicting the future.
Let’s consider a few of the assumptions for a financial plan for a 30‐year retirement timespan: inflation, tax rates, future spending, rate of investment return. Missing any one of these by just 1% makes a significant difference in the outcome. Even if it’s a very colorful and thick financial plan, it’s guaranteed to be inaccurate compared to reality. (Even if it has colorful pie charts and what‐if scenarios? Yes.)
There's a subtle danger here: if we focus too much on our plans, we may feel entitled to the desired outcome of those plans. If things don’t work out, then frustration or despair may result.
Planning is no laughing matter. Here’s where I end up balancing these thoughts:
- Plans should point you but not preoccupy you.
- Write your plans in pencil not with a Sharpie. Recognize their limitations.
- Commit all your plans to the Lord for success – as He defines that.
Seek wisdom not more plans. Ask God for His wisdom. I imagine that would make Him smile.