It used to drive me crazy. I’d tell her, “If it is different, then it can’t be the same!” And yet she would go on using the saying. I don’t know if she was secretly Yoda, waiting for me to discover the truth of her statement or if she just liked to get a rise out of me. With her, either could have been true.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my epiphany until years later and she wasn’t there to witness it. You see, the truth is so much more profound than the surface-level understanding provides you. Yes, it isn’t the same because it is, in fact, different.
However, at the heart of the matter, despite the difference, it is truly the same.
When people talk about how God answers prayers, they usually say something to the effect of — yes, no, and wait. To me, that has always been overly simplified. So, instead, when I am asked about how God answers prayers, I have a much longer list of possible responses:
- “Yes, I thought you’d never ask.”
- “Yes, but more than you ever hoped or dreamed.”
- “Yes, but different than your thoughts.”
- “Yes, but not yet.”
- “No, not until you deal with the sin you are holding onto.”
- “No, I have something else planned.”
- “No, I love you too much.”
I have found that it is usually a combination of answers, rather than a single option from that list. Neither is that list exhaustive, but I have found it to be pretty encompassing of most situations.
It was in one such situation that I finally experienced the meaning of “same same, but different.”
We all know that the Christian life is fundamentally about a life surrendered. It is a process that literally takes our whole life to achieve. We work, little by little, to surrender ever growing pieces of ourselves to Jesus. It is both the hardest and most necessary thing we will ever do.
Of all the things that I have to surrender, the hardest piece for me was my plan. I have had a 5-year plan since I was 5 years old. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t flexible. I was able to adapt my plans to make them even better. But I struggled with handing over my plans to someone else. Even with that someone else being the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
I worried that I would feel out of control, perpetually shaken up, never grounded again. I worried about being at the mercy of another’s whim, especially someone I couldn’t manipulate into doing what I wanted.
But I will tell you that doing so has been the one great paradox of my entire existence.
By handing over control,
- I have never felt so in control.
- I have never felt so grounded.
- I have never been so free from worry.
When I first became a counselor, my plan was to do it full time in a private practice. I could see myself with this nice office, helping a bunch of people.
Imagine my surprise when I hated it. Not the helping people part, just doing it full time. The implosion of my plan left me scrambling.
Then God led me to church. It just happened to be when the pastor was talking about plans that the church had an outreach center. I was excited about the idea, but plans for them were still 5 years off. That was the bad news.
The good news was that while I was talking to the pastor, he perked up at the word “counselor.” He asked me to come talk to him about working for the church. It turned out that they wanted me to only counsel part time and spend the rest of my time developing a marriage and family ministry.
I started a month later and was stunned that in this role, I discovered my “pocket.” Musicians will understand the reference, but for those wondering how pockets fit into all this, what I mean is that groove you hit where everything is perfect. It is when you are “in the zone.”
That job ignited my passion for ministry and my gift for teaching. Being a pastor–teacher–counselor is very different from the fancy private practice I had planned. And yet, it isn’t. At the heart of it, it is the same.
To what I had originally asked for, God said, “No, I have something else planned. And, yes, but different from your thoughts. And, yes, but more than you ever hoped or dreamed.” That’s because my original plan was too small, too narrow, too limiting. When I finally surrendered my plan, He took it and made it more. In essence, He put me on a new path and told me, “Same same, but different.”
With that experience, I learned to hold my plans with loose hands. I now have them surrendered to God’s plan. And whenever He places a curve in front of me, I get excited because I know that, “same same, but different” is profoundly better than a straight path of simple yeses.
About Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller, MAR, MA, LPC is a Christian pastor, professional counselor, and author of No Longer Two: A Guide to How God Created Men, Women, and Marriage. For over a decade, she has been combining her expertise in psychology and theology to help individuals, couples, and families both in private practice and in ministry, as well as through her writing, speaking, and teaching.
She is the co-founder and Co-Executive Director of The Center for Living Well, a nonprofit Christ-centered wellness ministry dedicated to helping people live well and love God. She regularly leads classes, workshops, and retreats on a wide range of topics including faith and relationships. She is also a Master-level Christ-Centered Yoga Leader at the Center.
Jennifer is one of the new co-hosts on Heart and Soul with Jory Fisher. You can listen to her with Jory the second and third shows of the month.