To The Left Or To The Right
All the biggies hit during emerging adulthood (18-30ish yrs. old). And by “biggies” I mean the choices that determine the direction of life; to the left or to the right…
Why should I go to school? How should I break the news?
When should I move out? Where should I live?
Who should I marry? When should I marry?
Where should I work?
What should I believe? Why should I believe?
How should I vote?
What should I give?
Why should I give? When should I invest?
How should I decide?
Tattoos, insurance, sex, credit cards, bills, kids, beer, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… The list is longer yet. The sheer volume of choices stirs up not a small amount of anxiety. And the cultural push, and hence kneejerk response, for many is toward one of two extremes:
A. Curl up in a corner and wait for the deadline to timeout.
2. Blindly throw an impetuous dart and worry about consequences later.
(“Impetuous” sounds better then hasty or rash, but it means the same thing.)
If you were a church kid, maybe you’ll skip the extremes and instead recall the cryptic manner of decision making recorded in various biblical narratives. Perhaps you’ll find lots to cast or a fleece to lay outside overnight. (For what it’s worth, I never have figured out what “lots” are, and the one time I left my fleece outside overnight the cat claimed it as a bed. Ironically, my cat’s name was Jacket.)
No matter though, whatever your method, the process of deciding on just what God’s will is for your life can feel as toilsome, even frightening, to one as it is to another.
Well, a week or three back I took time out of the daily race to visit a saintly old couple from my church. They have loved our family and our family has loved them. They’re aging well, but not without ailments that keep them in more than out.
Like most folks from yesterday’s generation, they love to reminisce of days long gone when times were easy and lean; not without troubles, but with troubles of a simpler sort. Their memories always seem to have been lived out on sunny days and open roads in old cars with bench seats. It makes you smile just imagining the details, huh?
At any rate, we got talking about this very issue of choices and the old feller dropped a comment into the dialogue that sent my mind spinning with revelation on one of my favorite “will of God” passages. Catch this. He said:
“Andy, it’s near impossible to steer a car that isn’t moving.”
You’re like, “Whaaaat?”
It may miss on some because all our cars now have power steering. But he’s harkening back to the days of rear wheel drive and inner tube tires, before power steering was imagined for mass market autos.
|That's me on the right and my brother on the left,|
with the Beaumont in the background.
My dad’s work car was an old Chevy Beaumont; late 60’s I suppose. I remember at least three things about that car. The seats were upholstered with duct tape. There was always an open bag of Reese Peanut Butter Cups lying on the floorboard. And it had power nothing…not windows, not brakes, not steering.
We’d take Sunday drives as a family up to my Grandpa’s house on the mountain in that old car. (Yes, it was always sunny.) I remember my dad sitting comfortably back in his seat skillfully maneuvering the winding road up and back. With one hand in my mom’s and one hand on the wheel, he’d gracefully ease that massive steel vessel into curves with a gentle pull to the left or to the right. Never lurching. Always floating.
Finally the dull white heap would come to a stop in our driveway at the end of the day and my brother and I would scramble over the bench seat to take turns pretending to drive. With the dash board a foot over my head and the pedals a foot beyond my feet, I would grab the steering wheel with a racers grip and twist and crank and pull with all my might…and get nary a nudge to the left or to the right out of those big black tires.
Because “…it’s near impossible to steer a car that isn’t moving.”
That’s his picture. What’s his point?
It’s near impossible to decide on something – to commit to a direction in life, to establish a conviction of conscience, to make a choice for one over another; to the left or to the right – if the life your living isn’t moving.
And here’s the favorite “will of God” passage I thought of. See if you catch the movement:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
You caught the will of God part, right? Rejoice…pray…give thanks…
When you’re drowning in the decision making process, tempted to curl up in a corner or blindly throw a dart, and it feels like your inquiry for God’s will, no matter how loud, is falling on deaf ears, you can know for certain that at least (and often enough at most) God’s will, His heart desire, in Christ Jesus for you is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
Forget about the options at hand for a bit, and sing a song. Smile. Get on your knees. Be still and listen. Tell someone “thank you.” List out your blessings: health, friends, pillows, milkshakes, laughter, whatev. Before you ever make a decision, this is God’s will for you. It steals your attention away from the choices at hand and draws it back to Him who already knows what you’ll decide.
But, did you catch the movement part? Always…without ceasing…in all circumstances…? Three things, three movements:
Rejoice, pray, and give thanks aren’t one-and-done’s. It looks to me like they are all-the-time’s and everywhere’s. It looks to me like they move. These aren’t vitamins we pop in the morning. These are culinary treats we feast on all day long. Pulling it back to the driving theme; these aren’t things to do when we get to the intersection in hopes they’ll magically direct us to the left or to the right. Apparently they ought to characterize the journey throughout. Or perhaps better, they ought to move us along the journey throughout.
Long before the stop sign and long after the turn… Keep on rejoicing. Don’t stop praying. Give thanks no matter what. There’s continual movement there that undoubtedly makes steering into the turns of life’s “biggies” a gentle and smooth maneuver done with confidence and grace.
What’s more though, the continual movement of rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances changes us. Doing these things over and over and over…and over again, it startles movement from doing to being; from the surface of our lives to a much deeper place within us.
Curiously enough, somewhere along the journey my “rejoicing always” becomes actual joy. As well, my “praying without ceasing” fosters genuine prayerfulness. And yes, my “giving thanks in all circumstances” turns into real live gratitude. Everything I was doing moves into my heart and they become characteristic of my being; they become who I really am in Christ Jesus himself. Joy and prayerfulness and gratitude spill out all over the road while I weave to the left and to the right as a joyful, prayerful, and thankful person.
Finally, while all that is going on there – as the continual movement of rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances moves into our hearts and we become joyful, prayerful, and thankful people – this is going on here: Our hearts are being moved into alignment with God’s heart.
The wonderful thing about this place of heart proximity is it takes the anxiety and blindness out of life’s “biggies.” Think about it. When my heart is aligned with the heart of God Himself, how often do I need to retrace my steps out of regret? How hard do I have to search for His will in a particular decision? How long do I really need to spend praying about big choices?
When my heart is aligned with God’s heart there is born in me a certainty and security anchored to Him assuring me at all times that where I’ve been, where I am at, and even where I am going is precisely His will.
We’ve all been on the road with wary drivers. We’ve been frustrated by folks who are afraid to merge onto the freeway in front of a semi truck. We’ve been irritated by folks who are lost and decide the middle of the intersection is the best place to reprogram the Garmin. We’ve followed nervously behind folks who keep drifting over the fog line.
Heart alignment allows me to change lanes at full speed with a quick glance over my shoulder. Heart alignment allows me to go left by simply flicking on my turn signal and looking both ways. Heart alignment allows me to stay the course of a long road without my life wobbling or veering or pulling toward the fog line. Heart alignment allows me to choose whatever my heart desires, believe that God is pleased, and receive whatever may come, all with deep abiding joy and prayerfulness and gratitude that have become who I am.
Truth be told – and it’s not new to you – life is full of big decisions. To the left or to the right? It can be crippling, unless your life is moving. When there is movement in your life of continual joy and prayerfulness and thanksgiving, then you’re ready to choose. Your heart is aligned with God’s heart and you can do whatever your heart desires…because it will be the desire of God’s heart as well.