I really dislike the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As a Northeasterner trying to become more of a Midwesterner, I am quite the planner. In high school, my life went about like clockwork. Choir in the morning, school until 3:30, crew practice until 6, home for dinner, homework, sleep, repeat. Coming to Notre Dame however, has challenged me and enabled me to begin reorienting my life and letting go of my relentless desire to plan and control. Coming to college, I was new at a school for the first time since pre-school. There was no possible way for me to plan how my life would be – who would become my friends, how I would like my classes, etc. So much of my life here has come down to serendipity – those happy, chance encounters that catch me by surprise. I truly see God at work through serendipity.
Serendipity is running into the right person just at the right time. Serendipity is forming deep friendships on campus when previously everyone had been strangers. Serendipity is being placed in a random hall and seeing how it can become a home. Serendipity is noticing the little ways that God loves me through other people. Serendipity is taking a creative elective just for fun, and rediscovering my love for design. Serendipity is God’s way of getting me to smile and trust that His way is better than anything I could design myself.
Serendipity, however, is not throwing your fate into the wind, as the movie Serendipity seems to suggest. Since my love for serendipity is well known by those closest to me, my mom suggested that our family watch this film, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. I thought I was going to be amused, but after a few minutes of the movie I was annoyed. In a cute, chance encounter in a shopping mall during Christmas time, two strangers meet and hit it off right away. They proceed to bump into each other again a short while later at the same little restaurant. They begin to exchange numbers, but Sara’s number blows into the wind, which she sees as a bad omen. She then insists on testing fate to see if they are supposed to be together, since each of them were already in a relationship. So he wrote his number on a five dollar bill and a she wrote hers in a copy of Love In the Time of Cholera. It took several years for both items to make their way back to the other person, and for the two to reunite (of course on the day of Jonathan’s wedding to another woman, and Sara herself is also engaged to be married). What a waste of time and emotional energy.
There has to be a proper balance between obsessively planning and throwing our fate into the wind. The movie Serendipity most definitely leaves out the role of God, but it did make me think about the “signs” that I look for in my own life. Moments of joyful serendipity should be happily received, and God should be praised through them. Such moments, however, cannot be actively over-analyzed and scrutinized, because this can lead me back to my relentless desire to plan and control. A serendipitous moment will happen, and then I’ll pray for a sign that that was a sign, and you know where the story goes from there. I am constantly trying to achieve the proper balance between taking the necessary steps to achieve goals and yet also remaining open to the way God may seek to change or reorient them.
Perhaps then, to understand what the role of serendipity should be, we must go back to the origin of the word. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word was invented by writer and politician Horace Walpole as an illusion to Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka. He based the word on the title of a fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, where the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” So, I ask, what is our quest? What are we seeking? Are we so dead-set on our plans that we may lose sight of something greater that God has in store? Serendipity is not perfect, and it is true I still often focus onto my own plan for my life. But if God is our quest, no matter where we journey, He will guide us through it. And, if we are open to it, He might just catch us by surprise, and take us on an adventure far greater than we could ever imagine.
Emily Hirshorn is a junior majoring in Arabic and minoring in Collaborative Innovation and Theology. Her middle name is Rose, and she thinks middle names are under appreciated. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, especially if you need help using your flex points.