I got to spend a few days enjoying the mountains of Colorado last week. A little hiking, a little running, a little reading, a little writing and lots of just soaking up the sun and the scenery. During walks or hikes I love taking photographs along the way. When I look back through the nature shots I’ve taken over the years, there is a common theme – a photo of the trail or the path or the road ahead of me, inviting me to discover what’s around the bend.
I’ve taken this (essentially same) photo in the woods:
On the road:
In the mountains:
And on paved trails:
Because I just love a pretty path that says… come explore, go this way, the scenery will be beautiful.
But in life, that’s not what we always get. Most of us get some serious detours thrown in.
When a friend gave me a cuff bracelet with the words “Embrace the Detours” I rolled my eyes at her. Because who wants detours? I hate them. They take you off the road you want to follow – a well-marked route with lovely scenery – and cost extra time while you wind through unfamiliar territory without knowing where you might end up. But a straight and smooth path is not what God promises us, and it’s not what most of us get. It’s an important lesson I’ve been learning, about this road of life and its combination of smooth paths, potholed roads, fast freeways and the once-in-awhile seriously off-road single-track trails that look like they lead absolutely nowhere. The kind of trail where you just keep going because you trust that somehow, somewhere ahead, there will be a clearly marked sign that gets you back on track.
We have to trust that God is in the detours. That He is holding our hands and hearts as we navigate rough terrain that we didn’t prepare or plan for: A health crisis. A child’s diagnosis. An accident. Not making a team. Not making a grade. Grief. Financial struggles. Job loss. Divorce. Broken friendships. The struggles of a teenager who makes choices you know will hurt them in the end.
These are hard things to face and to walk through. But there is always a path forward. It may not be in the direction you thought you’d go, but it is forward.
And sometimes, the detours actually help us avoid roadblocks we didn’t know were ahead! Roadblocks that might have discouraged or destroyed us: “God said, if the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. So he led them in a roundabout way…”
When life’s disappointments and tragedies knock us to our knees, look around: there is someone who will hold your hand and help you up. There is faith to lead you into that first step. We have to remember that detours can:
Take us a direction we need to go but wouldn’t have chosen. When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. He led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:17-18)
Strengthen our faith. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94:18-19).
Give hope to others. You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50: 19-20).
Bring us happiness (eventually). Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9)
Probably the hardest thing for me is to see people I love hurting. And that’s the season I’m in right now – watching, in particular children, deal with failures or losses. But, I keep telling myself – they have to learn these tough lessons for themselves, so they see the hope that can be at the end of a changed path… or the opportunity that can come from a rejection or failure. Our children are going to suffer in life. There is no avoiding it. So don’t we want those first few tastes of failure, hurt feelings, loneliness or rejection to happen while they are still in the loving arms of home? So they have somewhere to lean that’s safe, where they have you (or their friends or siblings or teachers or families) to talk it over with and guide them? We have to let them have these small tastes of life’s detours – failures or heartaches – while the stakes are relatively low. If we stay a step ahead, knocking every obstacle or potential hurt out of the way, then what? If we do that, we aren’t giving them the tools to forge ahead, learn to embrace the detours and trust they can get where they are going a different way.
The true tests of faith that most of us face come not from being challenged by those who don’t share our beliefs. It is in the complex challenges of life – how we handle the unexpected detours – that our faith is tested. And pushed. And strengthened and increased. So I’m trying to let my kids handle some (small, at their age) detours that will hopefully teach bigger lessons.
I’ve organized my photos now into album that’s just called “Paths.” It’s a collection of my pictures of trails and paths and bridges and roads, to remind me that there is always a way forward. To trust that while I may not always choose the bumpy road, it will always lead to the right things.
As I considered my own paths and roads and detours, I asked some friends and acquaintances over the last week about some of the things they’d label as detours in life that led them on a path to good things. Here are some of the answers I got:
-My detour was that my mom died when I was 7. Not that I would ever say it was a good thing – but looking back I see how we moved through our grief. So it did show me that life goes on – you can move forward and past the hurt.
-I had a baby when I was 20. It was a major detour! And my first job when he was little was exactly what I wanted – I was a domestic violence advocate, working with the police on calls. And at first I loved it. But then I hated it and got really burned out. When I went back to school I got an MBA and now I work in finance. I would never have guessed that’s what I’d be doing.
-I am always a little ashamed to admit that I’ve been divorced twice. I’ve been happily married now for more than 20 years, but it’s hard to admit I had those rocky roads when I was young. But it made me a more compassionate person.
-My detour was definitely when my son was diagnosed with special needs. It changed my whole life. It sort of took this dream I had – that I didn’t even know I had, so I guess it was an expectation – that my kids would be happy and healthy and go to school and read and write and everything would be “normal.” But then it wasn’t. It hasn’t been easy but I feel like I am a better person now than I might have been – like I have more understanding of people and what they go through and definitely more awareness that life isn’t perfect.