In June one of my dreams came true. My friend Helen and I hopped on a Eurostar and went to Paris for the first time. We were only there for a few days so we crammed in as much as possible, and that meant a lot of legwork, metro-hopping, and map-reading. Thankfully, Helen’s map-reading skills proved invaluable, and eventually we were fairly confident about our general sense of direction. But throughout the trip, we had to stop like the bumbling tourists we were to consult our overpriced map.
Without that map we would have been stuck at Gare du Nord from the get-go. Or we’d be miserably lost in the middle of some strange neighbourhood, destined never to dine in Montmartre or wander down the Champs Elysée . We needed a reference point to base our plans around.
I think life as a whole is like that. We look for pointers to assure us that what we’re doing is OK, that we’re on the right track and not wandering aimlessly in circles. We always want to be moving forward, and by forward we generally agree on a sense of improvement. In our circumstances. In our relationships. In our character. Paris, beautiful and exciting and vibrant as it is, would have gotten pretty dull if Helen and I had only seen the Eiffel tower. We all want to keep moving. We all hope for better.
Proverbs 13:12 states that ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’, and Romans 5 talks about the value of hope cultivated through perseverance. Hebrews 12:1 also backs up the idea that we are to be moving ever onwards: ‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’. Hope is something that is to be cherished, and we are not created to give up at the first hurdle.
The thing about life is that it isn’t a straight Roman road, designed so you can anticipate the approach of a new situation or obstacle. It’s probably more like a winding mountain trail- on a general incline of difficulty, precariously uneven and often obscured by the fog of our unknowing. We simply can’t navigate such a life without some direction. Like the maze of the Parisian back-streets, it’s easy to get lost in the confusion.
I’m not an expert on the whole life thing, but I wonder if maybe part of our problem lies in our approach to it. We’re impatient people who just want to be there already, minimum effort required. Or maybe for you, the process is everything- you get a thrill out of the pursuit, only the end result turns out to be just a bit disappointing.
I think when Paul was writing to the Hebrews, his use of the word ‘race’ was not meant to imply a competition, nor a mad dash to the finish line. I think maybe a long distance runner, enduring and well-paced, is a better image for this verse. Our culture places such emphasis on bettering ourselves- at least the outer things that can be seen. It’s all too easy to place value on the wrong things and become so goal-oriented that we lose sight of what really matters.
To put it simply, we don’t need to run. Let’s slow down and enjoy the journey, not shove one another out of the way so we can claim a hollow victory. And if we’re going too fast, we might miss the signs that are there to point us in the right direction. Because there are many paths to take, and the longer we go down the wrong one, the harder it will be to get back on track again.
I don’t think there’s a need to panic about this, though. My almost 21 years on this planet have shown me that some have a sure sense of where they want to go, and others don’t. I fall into the latter category and I’m OK with that. Some plan ahead and others are more spontaneous. How boring would it be if God made us all the same! I’m not implying that I don’t have dreams for the future, but taking one day at a time seems to suit my creative personality. I’m going into the third year of my degree and no, I still don’t know what I want to do afterwards. More accurately, I don’t know what I want to do first or most. I want to do lots of things, but mostly I want to leave room for God to steer me as He sees fit. I want to be prepared to follow where He leads, to be in tune with Him in such a way that my dreams and desires line up with His- because His desires for us will never, ever disappoint. Until then, I am content to learn as I go along.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, your direction in life is important. But that’s why trusting God with it, rather than freaking out if you’re not sure, is so crucial. Don’t spend your time worrying about it. (Unless you’re going backwards, which might be a cause for concern..) In some cases, it’s alright to just enjoy what you’re doing now without trying to apply long-term significance to it.
Proverbs 3:5 says ‘Trust in the Lord, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your path straight.’ I’m pretty chuffed to have a big, Universe-creating God to go before me and straighten that road.