“If I just hadn’t . . . ”
It’s a thought that, at points of struggle or doubt, has plagued me. It’s crept into my quiet times, my car rides and my sleepless nights.
Sometimes our decisions don’t seem very big, while other times they seem hugely definitive. We choose to keep fighting for that visa to move to a certain place, or we choose to stay in the States. Or we choose to move somewhere else altogether.
We choose to stay or to go, and where to go, and it alters the course of our lives and the lives of others. And sometimes, a few miles down the road, when things seem grim, we turn back in hindsight and wonder, What if I’d picked differently? Would it have been better? Could I have avoided some of the struggle?
A Long, Hard Detour
If anyone could’ve asked this, it would be the apostle Paul. In the latter part of Acts, he felt the Holy Spirit compelling him to go to Jerusalem even though he knew he would face troubles, maybe even death. He was right. It wasn’t long before his life was in danger. He was in court, being tried by the Jews. The stakes were high, and he didn’t trust the man who was trying him. So he appealed to Caesar to be tried in Rome.
That move may have saved his life. But when Agrippa heard Paul’s plea in Acts 26, Agrippa said, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” It’s hard to say what might’ve happened if Paul had chosen differently. He might’ve been turned over to the Jews and certain death. He might’ve been set free. But either way, what he chose was a ticket on a long boat ride to Rome — farther and farther away from where he had been heading.
It was a detour that would include a storm, hunger, a shipwreck, and a bite from a deadly snake. And when he finally got to Rome, he would live there for another two years.
Be Where You Are
Our decisions may not always be so obviously high-stakes, but there are definitely times when many of us look back at a decision we made a few months or years ago and think, Is this where God wanted me?
We may have ended up somewhere way longer than we ever thought we would, or the path to where we thought we were headed may have forked (dramatically) in another direction. If we’re in the middle of a messy struggle, we may think, Did I mess this up? But the thing is, right where you sit today reading this, God sees your every breath. You can proclaim Him right where you are, just like Paul did, whether you’re floating on a piece of a wrecked ship or you’re on trial for something you didn’t do. You can proclaim him for those two years you end up in Rome, even if that’s not where you ever meant to be.
God’s mission for Paul’s life was so much bigger than a map.
The fact that Paul’s call to Jerusalem took him in a different direction than Jerusalem wasn’t outside of God’s sovereignty. And it doesn’t necessarily mean Paul misheard God—it just means God had a much bigger design at play than getting Paul from point A to point B.
This is the same God who directs your life. So don’t let the detours wreck your faith.
Simply let them put different people in your path. And let God show you a whole different glimpse of who He is.
Grace Thornton is author of I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You. She blogs at gracefortheroad.com.