Crossroads, paths, and decisions, decisions, decisions!
Dr. R.B. McFee
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
From The Road Not Traveled by Robert Frost
The other day I was communicating with a friend who was concerned she had made the wrong job decision that was imposing some unexpected challenges in her life.
Processing how my friend was agonizing over the path she had embarked upon, I wondered how much of the decision making process did she share with God before making her final selection? Did she ask Him for guidance? Not a judgment, an observation.
Then I applied that same question to myself. How consistently do I bring my challenges and choices, both large and small, to the Lord for His guidance and insights? How about you? Is the Holy Spirit your partner in problem solving and journey Master?
As my friend questioned the path her journey was on, sadly she was beating herself up for a decision that had been made. Whether it turns out to be a good one or not, what’s done is done. Or is it? How does she know so early on? Can she see what God sees?
Here is the thing about decisions – the path we choose doesn’t have to be the road to finality. We may not be able to have a do-over, but are we imprisoned by our decisions? To be sure sometimes paths are mutually exclusive, as in Frost’s poem. But sometimes paths converge. Or there may be little side paths that give us a chance to take a peek at the other road, more travelled!
Besides, what is the reality of our life? Are we on a journey that is the sum of our experiences gained by pathways explored over the years, or is it one path, winner take all?
I like making decisions. Ask me about the red shoes next time you see me. Some people don’t because they fear the finality. And yet nothing is final in Christ, Who has the last word!
Moreover, the biggest decision we can make is how much of our life we allow God to have at His disposal, and focus on how the various components that make up who we are – job, family, hobbies, service time – support our partnership with the Lord. Instead of making one path the focus of our joy and sorrow, make our journey with God a greater focal point.
By putting God into the equation – whether it is our next career, or learning a new sport, entering into a relationship, or facing a financial, family or health challenge - making life more about your partnership in Christ, and less about you, we unlock His Power for us.
Pilots often say Jesus is my co-pilot. That’s only the case on the ground. Fly through serious aircraft jarring turbulence when you are a rookie and you soon realize He is the pilot, or should be! Isn’t it wild that we often come to that realization when the storms of life hit us – figuratively or in actuality? How much easier for us would it be if we just handed the keys to the Lord right at the beginning?
More often than not, we don’t engage our Heavenly Father in the early stage of our decisions. But thankfully that isn’t the defining moment. God helps us find a way to turn what may have harmed us, into something that blesses us, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase Genesis 50: 20-21.
Perhaps you, like me, have made a potentially life altering decision somewhere in the years since the stork delivered you as a bundle of joy into the world. And maybe that decision didn’t work out the way you planned. Yet here we are. You are still alive, reading this. You are still a bundle of joy, and have purpose. God made you to matter.
And just because things did not work out how we envisioned, did we, can we find blessings in this uncharted territory we might not otherwise have experienced? Do we allow God to show us what is good about the ‘right now?’ Do we ask Him is this where I am supposed to be, and if not, how can I emerge to a place that better serves both Him and me?
Did my friend forget, do we forget that “we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us?” (Phillipians 4:13). Have we lost sight of the fact that with God all things are possible?
Let’s face it. If we live long enough we will make a decision that in hind sight (cliché but true; it is 20/20) really was not too swift. Been there, done that, waiting for the T shirt.
To be sure, every day we are faced with decisions, and choices. Sometimes these are heavy with great ramifications, while others are convenience issues. Like mom said, if it wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be called a decision. Most of us have had to select a path – work, relationship, financial – where the implications carry some weight in our lives.
Then there are the myriad easy ones where the implications are harmless, such as which brand of peanut butter (Teddy ™, natural, just sayin!), or yogurt (chocolate, of course!).
There come points in our life, as Frost reminds in his iconic poem – where we can’t take two paths at the same time, and few situations offer us parallel options. Put differently, as Yogi Berra once counseled, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” In other words, we have to make tough choices in life. But as people of faith, we don’t have to do it alone.
Thinking about my friend brought to mind Proverbs 3, and other scriptures about how God meets us where we are, and works with us as He finds us.
5Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
During difficult times we tend to focus inward, as if the weight of the world, the fate of the world, including our own, depended solely on our perspicacity and prowess. God must chuckle lovingly at our folly. And He must feel sadness too. Because it is in those times that we have shut out the Lord, and stopped hearing the Holy Spirit, His guidance, comfort, and insights.
We’re all a work in progress regardless where we find ourselves, what great decisions and positions of success we enjoy, or the less astute decisions we made that place us in more precarious situations. Yet we need to realize whether taking the Scottish “high road,” or “low road,”, as the song Loch Lomand´ suggests, regardless of who gets “in Scotland before ye,”, we’ll both end up in that beautiful country.
Regardless of the path taken, our journey continues. This is especially true in our journey with Christ.
Too often we lose sight of what matters – this moment right now. This is where we meet God. This is where we hear the Holy Spirit. This is where our heart beats, our lungs fill, our mind thinks, and our fingers type.
We cannot travel into yesterday. We cannot go back to rebuild our past into something perfect or better. And we cannot dip a toe into the future to peek into the early results of our decisions. Nor can we fully influence the future, even with the decisions we make. There is, was, and will always remain an unknown, and there will always remain God in what we do – whether we choose to partner with Him or not.
Phillip Jensen on his blog “The Wisdom Of God And Our Decisions (1)” writes “we want to find God’s plan for us in these important decisions, so we look to the Scriptures for guidance.”
And what about trusted faith buddies?
That said, do we spend enough time asking God to help us with discernment in our decisions? Do our choices align with what God teaches in the Bible, and align with our faith? Do we even include God in our daily steps, let alone big picture things?
So you muffed a decision! Where can you go that our Savior can’t help?
I think about people who made horrible messes with their lives, and ended up in jail. Some will never learn from the experience, while others have chosen to reflect on their lives. Many are transformed in Christ, often through a prison ministry outreach program, or God allowing them to feel His presence, and grow from it. Just type “prison to pulpit” on any search engine and you will find stories of folks who went from the penitentiary to preaching the Word of God. That is to say even folks who made decisions that landed them behind bars were not beyond God’s healing, redeeming, and guiding touch. He transformed these individuals to have meaningful lives in service to the Lord, and to others.
That said, I doubt any of us have made such unfortunate decisions that will lead to incarceration. In other words, we are never without a way over, through, or around hurdles if God is our partner.
And, it is never too late to ask for God’s guidance. He likely won’t let us have a do over, but he will help us make our path straight.
As a physician I’ve counseled my fair share of people. Self flagellation, second guessing, and self recrimination can be as toxic as high triglycerides, obesity, excessive alcohol, sedentary lifestyle, isolation, or smoking. Yet how often do we as people of faith recite The Lord’s Prayer every week, and forget one of the most important statements – “forgive us, as we forgive others.” Sadly we overlook the notion we need to forgive ourselves, too!
We can learn about decisions, and doing them right if we ask God, if we focus on humility and listen to trusted friends with an open mind, and if we try to align our lives with purposefulness in the Lord’s service.
In life we all take a road less traveled. Sometimes it leads us “besides still waters.” Sometimes we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” or at least some danger, or potential disappointment. If we are in God’s care, then we must believe He can make our path straight, he can turn anything into good, allowing us to experience the “surely goodness and mercy” that will “follow us all the days of our lives.”
Our paths will be straighter, better if we listen to God. But here’s the caveat – God is not a magic answer 8-ball.
In the book “Adulting for Jesus – A book about purpose, trusting God, and (obviously) burritos,” by Kristin Weber, the author shares this insight – God doesn’t’ give us a highlighted map for our life because if a great big neon arrow pointed us to the next thing, our faith and trust in Him would never grow.”
She then quotes Sam Allberry in Why God Hides His Will For You2” who suggests “God is not telling us what to think at every moment, but how to think. He is rarely telling us what decision to make, but is teaching us how to make decisions.”
Every decision and path within our journey allows us to testify for the Lord, and serve His purposes using the gifts and talents provided to us. The freedom to decide, to serve, are all gifts God has blessed us with, if we remember to include the Giver.
So as long as we have a pulse it will be decision, decision, decision….
1. Phillip Jensen“The Wisdom Of God And Our Decisions https://phillipjensen.com/resources/the-wisdom-of-god-and-our-decisions/ Last accessed 03/05/21
2. Sam Allberry “Why God Hides His Will For You” - Desiring God, July 2, 2019 www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-god-hides-his-will-for-you