By Jean Bloom
I was deep inside a Tennessee cave with a group of tourists. The cave was roomy enough for us to walk upright and equipped with electric lights, but even the hint of an enclosed and dark space was freaking me out a little. Staying huddled with all the others wasn’t too comfortable, either. I am a woman who likes her personal space.
Maybe that’s why I missed our guide’s instruction to stay on the designated path.
As we stopped at the first point of interest, I noticed a spacious spot a little to the side and went for it. When I turned around, every pair of eyes was on me, and the guide gently but firmly suggested I move back with the others. Then, in a state of complete embarrassment, I made a sudden move and almost lost my balance. I regained my equilibrium and composure, but I still have nightmares about how close I came to falling into a cavernous hole, no doubt either breaking every bone in my body or being impaled on a stalagmite.
I began the journey on the path set before me, but then failed to listen and strayed. Fortunately, the guide called me back before I could do damage to myself and perhaps to others.
Not every going astray experience is this dramatic, but Proverbs 4:26 gives us some wisdom for each walk God calls us to in life: “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways” (NIV). That makes so much sense, doesn’t it? So, yeah, I’m in. I will walk the paths you set before me as instructed, God: careful, steady—and certainly without stepping off on my own.
Too often, however, I have let my hearing dull to the sound of God’s voice and been enticed off the path he has set before me. If marriage got a little rocky, I could effortlessly veer off into the dark forest of stubbornness. If parenting seemed like too much, I could easily careen into the thorny underbrush of impatience. If my career got too hard, I could clumsily stumble into the tall weeds of frustration or pride. Disappointment? Picture a woman sitting under a canopy of low-hanging tree branches, head in hands, eyes and ears closed, folded in on herself. Not moving an inch.
Although God is close to the brokenhearted and waiting for all who will return to him, I am not talking about hardship or tragedy or crushing disappointment that sends us to our knees or about walking away from God. I am not talking about blatant disobedience or headlong foolishness (think Jonah sitting in that stinky fish and the story of the prodigal son wallowing in a pigsty). I am talking about the everyday obstacles and circumstances that tend to expose our human weaknesses. About the challenges and stresses we can, however briefly and in all our frailty, stop us from listening and encourage us to wander off a God-directed path that seems too rocky, too much, or too hard.
The problem is, we are not equipped to find our own way back. Thank God he is always waiting to forgive and guide us back to the paths he has set for us. I imagine Jesus saying gently but firmly, I understand. Life is hard. But for a moment there, you weren’t hearing me and you stepped off the path I set before you. Here, let me help you back on. I know you can do it. And I know you can learn from it.
I’d like to tell you decades of learning eliminate the tendency to stray when the challenges and stresses of life overwhelm. But on a daily basis, any path can be marked with misguided human footprints.
And every restoration brings the opportunity to gain a bit more wisdom. More and more we can adopt careful thought and steadfast ways to live out his purposes on every path he sets before us, if only we will listen and learn with a willing heart.
Most of all, we can be more and more certain that his paths are worth the journey.
Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
(Ps. 119:33–35 NIV)
Jean Kavich Bloom is a champion coffee drinker and mostly productive, pink-bathrobed freelance editor and writer. She does not garden, bake, or knit but says playing Scrabble is exactly the same thing. Jean and her husband, Cal, live in Indiana. They have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren. You can read her blog at bloominwordstoo.blogspot.com.