A while ago when I was learning programming with PHP, I came across a section that really intrigued me. This is where your code tests for a certain condition, if the condition is true, performs a certain task if not true, performs another. You can set your code for example to check the time of day and return an appropriate greeting. One of the ways of doing this is using an if/else statement. If the time is 0800-1159, return “have a good morning”, if it is 1200-1800, return “have a good afternoon”, else return “have a great evening” (and if you plan on learning programming, apart from the syntax, the code does read the way the sentence reads).
I said this was intriguing and the reason is because I had come across this thought process elsewhere. I was lucky to have grown in my first job to a level where I participated deeply in budgeting. Part of coming up with both Revenue and Expense budget was scenario planning. Knowing how volatile the tourism industry is, you just couldn’t have a single course of action. You would budget for a certain business level with specific rates from domestic, international, corporate clients etc. If any of the markets underperformed for whatever reasons, then you would have to depend more heavily on another, and if the overall business outlook was bad, it meant then you would have to scale down on other aspects of operations. We used to call the specific conditions we were basing our budget on “assumptions”. If this set of assumptions is true, we use this road map, else this is our fall back plan! How cool is that? We had to do scenario planning or call it contingency planning because the business and people in it must always be aware of what to do. No market condition was supposed to get us off guard.
But then I realized I did not have to go that far to experience this phenomenon; our brains do scenario planning at an amazing scale. If our brain was based on a code, it would be processing millions of if/ else statements (or switches, another way of doing the same) in a day (may be before lunch time). In the morning when you wake up for example, you check on the weather. If it is cold, you put on a jumper, if it is raining you wear a rain coat, else you just wear your favourite shirt and hit the road. When you get to the bus stop, you wave down the next matatu and ask what fare they are charging. If they quote a price beyond what you planned to spend, you wave them on and wave down the next one, else you jump in and ride to work.
Throughout the day, your eyes, ears, and the rest of your senses will be feeding your brain with data. Your brain will be testing various scenarios and coordinating your body to respond accordingly. So efficient is this processing that when you miss a staircase step as you enter the office, your senses will have communicated to your brain enough data to help you realign your weight and measure your next step to avoid a tumble. All this in the split of a second, and without even involving your conscious mind.
Now, imagine if your brain could not consider any other option except what had been premeditated. You had anticipated it is going to be sunny, you wake up and it is raining, but you just wear your shirt and go to work. You had planned to spend only 20 shillings for fare, but the first matatu charges you 50 shillings, but you just go in and overspend. Your initial calculation on the distance to the next step on the staircase was wrong but you walk straight on and tumble over! Well you really would not be alive to read this. Yet, when it comes to our conscious life, a lot of us really have no contingency planning.
Since I found scenario planning such a novel ideal, yet it was the central part of my existence, I really had to interrogate myself to see where the disconnect was. If you grew up in church like me, and spent most of your college life in a CU, again like I did. I can easily predict your scenario planning. If you are pursuing an opportunity, you will obviously pray, and visualize how the opportunity will turn out (you are working out your faith). Some will also ask God for a sign (God, if I walk into that office, and the interviewer is wearing a red tie, then I will know this is the job you have set aside for me!). If the scenario does not play out as you had visualized it (and it rarely does), you will assume it was not the will of God. It was never meant to be. A lot of time, to take advantage of this opportunity, all we should have done was a bit more preparation and planning; we consider a few more scenarios and how we would respond.
The other popular scenario planning among Christians involves anticipation for miracles. God is our contingency plan (and no, that is not a compliment). If what we have imagined does not play out, then it is no longer our responsibility. God has to intervene. In the age of myriads of insurance covers, we believe God will keep us in perfect health because we trust in him. We don’t anticipate sickness or accident or plan for them. When they come, as they will usually do, we are not prepared or covered, and the only fall back plan we have is to pray for miraculous healing or a financial breakthrough to go to hospital! I know you know how this plays out. We grow up surrounded by so much false optimism and “spiritual” assurance that we never take time to consider the many ways our days may play out and plan accordingly.
If you would like to know how Jesus thought about contingency planning, consider the parable of the shrewd servant in Luke 16 who Jesus commends for making post “retrenchment” plans even at the expense of his master. Talking about him, Jesus notes that the Children of this world are wiser than the children of the kingdom. Consider also the Parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. The five foolish virgins who did not anticipate that the bridegroom may get late, and therefore plan for extra fuel, were locked out. The wise ones considered the worst case scenario and prepared with extra fuel. There is also the poor widow and the unjust ruler in Luke 18. When her request was not granted at first, the poor widow did not resign to the “supposed will of God”. She pestered the ruler until her petition was granted.
As a young Christian, you really should know that things will not play out the way you visualize them in your head over your morning devotion. Life will present numerous surprises, many of them rude. What will help you is not a miracle or resigning to the “will of God”. God created you with an amazing ability to consider options, weigh scenarios, and draw alternative courses of action. Do not get dazed and stuck when things don’t work your way. You have a myriad ways around those simple challenges if you would only prepare and plan. As an old joke goes, if plan A does not work, even if plan B also does not work, calm down, the alphabet has 26 letters!
[Photo credit: Flickr]