Spiritual Explorer: God’s Plan vs My Plan
Editors Note: This article is part of a series. Follow along as Jacob explores widely different cultures and places and delves into the spirituality, history, and people that make these places unique.
It’s 5am in Dubai and I’m standing at the check-in counter regretting the concoction of anti-anxiety supplements and caffeine that’s propelled me groggily to the front of the line. The wait had been long, the terminal under construction is arid and bursting at its seams with passengers. At an airport that sees more international passengers than many others in the world, the dawn breaks on a kaleidoscope of mingling languages, smells, interests, and destinations.
My Destination: Nepal.
My time spent in Dubai was a whirlwind. Pulsating heat reflecting off feats of structural engineering I’d previously never seen, sadness, and the kind of joy I know only from reconnecting with an old friend, all played their effective parts. In truth it was only a five-year ban from Turkey levied against me last year that led me to Dubai. Otherwise I would have made my way overland from Romania and flown the rest of the way to Nepal from there.
God, as I have learned, often leads you in a direction you had no intention of going. In following that path there is sometimes struggle, but always the possibility of blessing upon reflection of lessons learned.
Lost in Translation at Dubai International Airport
Standing at the check-in counter for my pre-booked flight to Nepal, I received another one of those lessons.
Unbeknownst to me, my three-legged flight from Dubai to Kathmandu, Nepal, was actually impossible to make without an appropriate second-leg transfer visa. The agent working at the desk quietly informed me that without this visa it would be impossible to allow me onto the flight. The airlines would risk having to pay a hefty fine for allowing me to travel without the visa, if I were to be stopped by immigration officials in either the Mumbai or New Delhi airports, and who knows what manner of inconvenience I would also personally suffer for this breach.
I didn’t intend to find out, but neither was I particularly pleased at this development. I had three choices: purchase a flight to Nepal on a different day, at an exorbitant fare increase; cancel Nepal and stay in Dubai; or catch whatever the next outgoing (and cheapest) flight offered.
There have been times during the last three years of almost non-stop travel that I’ve questioned whether or not my explorations are worth the hassles. In truth, it’s been an amazing experience overall, and this particular leg of my journey, combined with the opportunity to share it with readers, has made it all the more worthwhile. Sometimes though, border police, thieves, distractions, and a type of loneliness found only in foreign corners of the Earth wear heavily on me.
I’ve maintained throughout, as did Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, that I’m being led somewhere, and to something, and this seems especially evident in these difficult moments.
Heading to Sri Lanka Instead of Nepal
With only 30 minutes left before the first available flight was leaving, the very unsympathetic manager from Jet Airlines was clearly looking to hurry my decision along quickly. Only one place looked both appealing in location and price, though, so there it was – I was headed to Sri Lanka.
I knew at that moment nothing about the tiny island nation to which I was headed. I’d heard of a relatively recent civil war, some idyllic beaches, and little else. In contrast, Nepal had been a country I’d poured energy into researching and had been reading about for the last several years.
During my previous stint in Turkey, I somehow managed to run completely dry of funds, and as a result of this inability to leave, I overstayed my visa. But my initial plan even then, some two years ago now, had been to reach that nation known as the birthplace of the Buddha, home to the world’s highest mountain peak.
My planned visit to Nepal was carefully chosen. I was already booked at a well-regarded Buddhist monastery for a ten-day stay of meditation and reflection, and my heart was set on it. The headlong push I’d made from Romania to Dubai, arriving finally at this crowded airport so early in the morning had been almost solely dedicated to reaching that Buddhist monastery.
All too quickly that plan was now completely dashed. It would be financially impossible for me to go from Sri Lanka to Nepal in time for the starting date of the meditation retreat. Why had God’s plan clashed with mine so suddenly, and so resolutely, in this chaotic instant at the airport check-in counter?
Frustration Began to Well Up
After the hastily purchased ticket was acquired, the desk agent reviewed my confirmation details. He studied it carefully, and then stated that I would also need an exit ticket for Sri Lanka before being able to board the flight. He said it was a standard Sri Lankan immigration policy. A small matter he’d neglected to inform me about before I purchased the ticket.
Frustration, which had been swelling from a vague area near my stomach, began to well up into my chest. It was seriously threatening to strike its way through the thin veneer of calm I had up until this moment been able to maintain.
I had no idea when I might be able to leave Sri Lanka. I had no plans, prior to this, to even arrive in Sri Lanka. I had no friends or connections there, and not even a clue as to what language is commonly spoken. It’s not something very uncommon for me, I’d flown once to Spain from Mexico on a smile and a prayer, with only $100.00 to my name and, in retrospect, that turned out quite well.
This time, though, things were different. On this rare occasion I thought I had a very clear goal outlined and had begun my travel with the full intention of seeing that goal realized.
God’s Plan vs My Plan
However, it is also not uncommon that I find myself headed in a direction, committed to an action or a plan, that does not align with God’s plan for me. The purpose of my writing this series is to explore the beauty, and sometimes harshness, within God’s creation as it grows and shapes my spiritual life.
I must say now that in that hectic moment at the airport in Dubai, this lesson became vividly clear. Taking the shape of poor planning and a wealth of bureaucratic red tape, it appeared obvious that sometimes my plan will not be God’s plan, and ultimately mine won’t happen.
Fortunately, at that exact moment, the desk agent appeared to realize my frustration and I think he felt some remorse for not having mentioned the necessity of an exit ticket prior to boarding the plan. At what seemed a possible risk to his employment status, considering his insensitive manager had been hovering over his workstation throughout the entire process, he quickly checked me in to the flight. Quietly he instructed me that if the immigration authorities in Sri Lanka ask for my departure flight details, I should show them a screen shot with details of a random flight to the Maldives, which I had no intention of catching.
Nepal was not to be, but Sri Lanka was a definite go. The only possibility I had now to understand what is God’s plan for my journey may be to ask, wait for an answer, and then act on His response.
And at that moment, whatever may be God’s plan for me when I get to Sri Lanka, I hadn’t the slightest clue. But walking quickly away from the check-in desk, I was eager to relinquish my own plans and allow God to guide me through His.
(Top and last image note and source: Dubai Airport by Jacob Sneed)
Follow Jacob’s series “Spiritual Explorer” as he delves into unique cultures, spirituality, history, and people of the places he travels. Let us know whether you agree with his impressions.
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