Straight Lines Aren’t Always Best

indexThe shortest distance between two places is a straight line. While the rule might work well in geometry, it doesn’t work as well in real life.

Imagine nature with only straight lines. Imagine artwork. Imagine your movements. Imagine conversations.

Imagine spiritual growth. We want it to be straight and narrow. We want to intentional, purposeful, but what if quick, focused arrival isn’t the goal? What if the process, including extra effort, detours, and obstacles, is? Sure, there’s frustration in meandering, but there’s also beauty, rests, and discoveries.

Anytime I’ve climbed a mountain of any significant size, I have not taken a direct route. The path usually meanders back and forth. As I work my way up the side of the mountain, I see the same view over and over as I look out across the valley, but my perspective changes. I notice new details. I appreciate where I’ve been. I appreciate that I’m a few steps closer to the top.

It’s the same with spiritual growth. I sometimes wonder why it seems I learn the same lessons over and over, but in reality, it’s not the exact same lesson each time. I have a little more experience, and I get a slightly different perspective.

I can’t stand in exactly the place I am without having taken each step leading me here.

The meandering line seems less-productive than a direct route, but in reality, it’s a lot more productive, beautiful, and productive than a direct route.

Lesson from Nature: Two Paths

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

Look closely. There are two paths. I recently wrote a post, Choices are Not All Cut-and-Dried, about facing the pros and cons of two paths. Some choices are more obvious.

Following the well-worn path would have taken me into water and mud. The path to the right of the tree was on slightly higher ground. It was obviously not the established path. It was simply the way several people had tried to avoid the water that naturally flowed along the path after heavy rains. Because of the choices of people ahead of me, I had an option that seemed obvious to me…more obvious than it probably seemed to them. Their willingness to try something cleared the way for me.

Following others doesn’t always work out well, but sometimes, it does. I don’t even know who I was following. I don’t know how much time had passed since the first person took the alternate route. I don’t know how many people it took to wear the path in the grass. All I know is…I had an excellent option ahead of me because of them.

Had the path led me into a snake pit or bear’s den, over a cliff, or into the lake, the people before me wouldn’t have left me with a good option. Every option that looks good isn’t good. But this one worked out, and it made me consider,

What if someone is following every step I take? Am I establishing a trail I would want others to follow?

I’m not talking about creating safe trails for everyone, trails that eliminate every risk and adventure. In fact, we couldn’t, even if we tried. What I am suggesting is simply considering where we’re walking, not just for ourselves but for others. Shouldn’t we know how to choose a path well in order to lead well?

Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Reinventing Yourself

reinvent“Reinvent yourself.” It’s common advice for those trying to get past a bad relationship, overcome an addiction, or simply shift and refresh perspective on life. It’s not a new idea. In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Reinventing ourselves doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s empowering, and we can easily rationalize that if we have power, we’re in control. However, power is defined by God. We’re not in control no matter how much we rationalize it. We certainly control what choices we make, but we don’t know the full impact of individual choices, so we’re not ultimately in control of what’s going on. We can say we’re “taking control,” but are we actually taking control from God? What we have comes from the source who gave it to us. We are created in the image of God.

Looking around our society, it certainly looks as if we can be successful at becoming something God doesn’t intend, but the truth is, no matter how far away from the image of God we appear to be, we’re still created in the image of God. We’re able to distort the image, but we can’t fully negate it. No matter how we live today, we do not eliminate the truth of who we were created to reflect. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to reinvent ourselves. God not only knows the purpose He created us to fulfill but also the path that is best for us to fulfill it. When we trust Him to constantly weed out the old and develop the new, we will become more and more like Him. We will glorify Him in the process.

It’s the Little Things (Turtles Included)

I was cruising behind a semi on the interstate when he unexpectedly swerved. I quickly glanced at what could be on the road to see what I needed to avoid, and all I saw was a small black something. How odd for a huge truck to swerve around something so small – something it wouldn’t have even felt if it had run over it.

Then, it moved, and I realized it was a turtle.

I was able to swerve around it as well, which was tricky since the rush of the truck sent it into high speed. I’ve never seen a turtle’s legs move so quickly!

I glanced in my rearview mirror and hoped the little guy would get across the road before the cars behind me reached him…or that they would see him and swerve.

As my focus returned to my front window, I looked at the truck still ahead of me. Its driver (1) paid attention to detail and (2) cared.

As you speed through life, are you (1) paying attention to detail and (2) caring?

There are people who unintentionally wonder onto the road or intentionally scurry across the road. Pay attention and be willing to slow down, go out of your way, or stop. What you do will impact those behind you.

Between dawn and sunset many people are broken to pieces; without being noticed, they die and are gone forever. (Job 4:20)

Fit Faith: Change: The Turnaround

My father-in-law was driving on a southbound road. A truck driver quickly drove up behind him, honked a couple times and passed him. He pulled off not far down the road, and when my father-in-law was stopped beside him, he asked, “How do I go north from here? This is Highway 17 South, and I want to be on Highway 17 North. How do I do that?”

Why do we make turning around so difficult? If we’re headed in a direction we’re not supposed to be headed in, we can turn around. We might have to go out of our way a bit, but as far as I know, there are no roads that once on, there are absolutely no ways – ever – to get turned around in the opposite direction.

I think people sometimes know they’re going in the wrong direction, so they get off one road and instead of re-entering the same road but in the opposite direction, they try to maneuver all kinds of other, lesser known roads. They were going in the wrong direction in the first place and just end up more lost instead of simply turning around or looping around an overpass.

Whether you’ve gone down paths you know you shouldn’t have gone down, or someone – or perhaps a GPS – gave you faulty directions so that you ended up someplace you didn’t intend, you have a choice to either continue down the wrong path or turn around to get on the right path.

I typically don’t use a GPS while driving. I see the benefit, but because I don’t get turned around easily, I haven’t had much of a need for one. However, one of my friends had just added GPS to her phone when we were travelling in California several years ago. She was so excited about using Gidget, as we named her, that I decided to appease her and listen to Gidget…with an occasional glance at my own directions. Gidget did fairly well until I turned into a shopping area instead of waiting for the next, correct turn. Not only did she continually “recalculate” and urge me to take the next available U-turn, but she cackled at me. It was an evil cackle. I probably shorted her system because of all the turning I was doing through the parking lot just to test her abilities, but it sounded like a haughty cackle, as if she was spitting in my face. Of course, it only made my friend and I laugh harder.

We got back on track, and I was beginning to rely solely on Gidget, no longer paying attention to my own directions, when she suddenly turned off. Gidget went dark, and the last thing we’d heard was an upcoming turn. Neither of us was sure what road we were supposed to turn onto, but we knew we’d miss it if Gidget didn’t turn on quickly. I was not happy with Gidget. (We figured out later that it was not Gidget’s fault. My friend had scheduled her phone to turn off automatically at 11 p.m. each night and forgot that meant it would turn off at 9 p.m. while we were in California!)

While I was in a temporary panic because I thought we might miss out turn, I realized, “So what!” I could pull off anytime. I wasn’t a victim of the road I was on. Even if I missed the turn, I could turn around. A temporary delay didn’t mean I’d be lost for days or even hours. I might have a slight detour, but I could still find a route to take me to where I needed to go.

God doesn’t leave you without an available route. He doesn’t ever set you up to be lost. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV)

Even when you’re going south and should be going north, he’ll give you the option to turn around.

Dead Skunk Running

We were just a few miles from home, travelling the straight road my nephew once identified as “the middle of nowhere.” We were singing, laughing, telling stories…just being our goofy selves. Without warning, something was right in front of us in the road. It was waddling in a confused circle. We had no time to swerve, nowhere to go. As we drove over it, we realized what it was. I steadied the wheel. We held our breath.

For the brief moment that seemed to consume several minutes, we drove over a skunk!

I pictured it running around under the van. I waited to hear the thud of it hitting a wheel. I anticipated the stench. But there was no thud and no stench.

We looked at each other and finally exhaled.

That was a skunk!

How did we not hit that?

That was bizarre!

I  don’t remember anything from that stretch of road except for the skunk running in convoluted circles. I thought of the “could haves” and was thankful for the “didn’ts.” Crisis averted.

Years ago, driving home from a college class, I ran over a possum. When I looked in my rearview mirror, I saw the babies scurrying from their dead mama’s pouch. Crisis not averted. I was devastated.

When has something happened so quickly in life that you held your breath through the crisis? You knew there was a  potential mess coming, but you weren’t sure what would actually happen.

  • Would the relationship survive?
  • Would you choose the right response?
  • Would you be able to handle the potential mess?
  • Would you be part of the problem or part of the solution?

We can’t avoid every crisis. We don’t have that much power or control. If you’ve never heard it before, let me break the news to you: You’re not the center of the universe, and all does not revolve around you. In fact, I challenge you to find any aspect of life that revolves around you. Go ahead…

Your job? No.

Your health? No.

Your schedule? No.

Your relationships? Absolutely not!

Sure, you have influence in all these areas. You have responsibilities, but you’re not at the center. If you find something you think revolves around you, I challenge you to accept you only perceive yourself as the center of the universe in that area. God didn’t create you to be the center of anything. He fills that role just fine!

You can take driver’s education, practice safe driving, and remain alert. But a skunk (or possum, moose, deer, or bird) can quickly cross your path at anytime.

When “could have” becomes “just did,” how do you respond?

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness. 2 Peter 1:5-6

(Dis)Comforts of Home

I’ll usually sacrifice a few hours of sleep for the comfort of my own bed, so when I recently scheduled a trip to Atlanta, I decided to fly in and out the same day. That meant a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, full day of training and networking with women’s ministry leaders, and bedtime around 1:30 a.m. Because it was a dark-to-dark day, I knew I needed to rest on the plane.

I can usually doze before the plane taxis for take-off. I’d strategically booked a window seat to insure a headrest, so once I boarded the plane, I settled in and shut my eyes. A minute passed. Then another and another. And then, I heard it. A faint, familiar sound interrupted my peace…

The man next to me was snoring.

Not as loudly as my husband but enough to disturb my sleep – and cause me to smile. I thought to myself, “It’s just like being at home!”

Travel companies spend millions of dollars to create and convey the comfortable experiences of the familiar. I’m not sure snoring neighbors is an effective marketing plan, but it still made me smile.

If I couldn’t sleep beside my husband, at least I could experience a small piece of home even if it’s a home experience I typically strongly dislike.

How often do we experience something as negative until we can no longer experience it? Of course, I was only away on a short trip, but what about all the things that annoy us most about a family member – and then we miss when they move or pass away? Some of the annoying habits are often what we miss right away, because they’re habits, and we readily notice their absence.

The discomforts of home are sometimes the very things that comfort us as reminders of home. I’m not referring to the life-changing, traumatic things of home. I’m thinking in much more light-hearted terms. And to be honest, how we respond often depends on what terms we separated from someone. If the separation was negative, we’re more likely to continue being annoyed by habits.

But let’s think more from a positive perspective. Have fun with this for a minute.

What has annoyed you about your children, parents, spouse, friends, and so on that you missed once the person was away from you?

I’d create a list, but it might create an issue with some of the people I love!

Really, it’s not unlike how I sometimes respond spiritually. Faith isn’t convenient. It can interrupt the rhythm of the day. It requires more out of me than I’m willing to give at times. I’m prompted to yield when I want to do things my way. I have (what I think to be) good reasons. Faith isn’t comfortable – or is it?

What happens when I’m outside my norm? I look for, rest in, and cling to what’s firmly grounded and familiar to me, which is – I’m thankful to say – my faith. Within the discomfort of life, I find comfort.

Faith isn’t comfortable, yet it’s steeped in comfort.

The wide path of convenience might be easier, but it doesn’t make it best. The narrow road has its own set of challenges. The overgrowth scratches my legs. I can only see glimpses of what’s ahead. I have to walk by myself at times. And I have to pay attention to the subtle clues of terrain obstacles and directional challenges.

But it’s the only path I want to be on. It’s the path I want to be most familiar. There is comfort in the discomfort.

I didn’t get much sleep on my early morning flight.

It’s okay. I had a comforting flight.

The gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Matthew 7:14