The best things in life are not in your day-timer and probably weren't on your ten-year goal list. Although we make plans incessantly, many of the things we look back on with fondness were never in the grand game plan of our life. Our lives often unfold in a myriad of ways that were never part of our well-laid plans.
If we are to experience a second innocence in our lives, to reconnect with the joy and wonder of life, we must begin to rethink how we see detours, the inevitable forks in the road that life gives us. Our commitment to our plans can blind us to the very path our soul wants to take us.
When I was a young minister I had mapped out my entire career starting at age twenty-five. In orderly five-year chunks, I carefully laid out each step of my forty-year-long career and what I wanted to be doing in each of those time periods, ending when I was somewhere around 60 to 65 when I would finish my career as a wise and a revered seminary professor. It would be great fun to dig up that five-year increment plan today and look at it with the perspective of how my life has actually unfolded.
Ironically, that carefully crafted road map may have helped ensure my departure from the ministry. I had set a clear plan to go to a bigger church in a specific time frame and set my sights on making that plan a reality. When a dynamic (but small) church outside of San Antonio, Texas, asked me to move there as their leader, I turned them down (graciously, I hope). They simply were not large enough to fit my plan. Instead, six months later I took an assignment at a larger church in San Diego. The assignment was a disaster and I left the ministry in part because of it. Fortunately, my openness to detours thereafter led me to a great vocation, and I have learned that a narrow focus on the "plan" has never served me well.
How many of us have taken a promotion, made a move, taken marriage vows, and so on, because we believed it to be the next step in our plan? And how many of us have missed opportunities for the renewal of our soul because it did not fit with the "map" for our life?
Too often in life we get an idea in our heads, and in the process close our hearts to the gentle nudging of the spirit to wander off the path. Innocence is possible only when we recognize that detours are neither good nor bad-they are simply signs and opportunities. Our tendency to judge detours as obstacles often blinds us to their hidden possibilities. Detours are intrinsic to the human experience in that every life is filled with unplanned twists and turns. And given how much these detours are part of the human experience, feeling the need to avoid them is quite stressful, if not counterproductive.
Perhaps when a detour presents itself, our first response should be: "Isn't it interesting that I have come to this possibility? I wonder where it might lead." For example...
When I was a graduate student at Kent State University working on my Ph.D., I drove a particular route to school every day. It was a predictable, boring 45-minute ride through the cornfields and industrial areas of northeast Ohio. Each Tuesday and Thursday for almost a year I took this drive. One morning, running slightly late as always (at the time my nickname was "the late great John Izzo"), I ran smack into a "Road Closed" sign and an arrow pointing to the detour. For two weeks the main road would be closed.
Turning left (and cussing the state, the county, and the rest of the world in the process), the road took me through rolling farmland to a "T" crossing. When I turned right and drove around a corner, there before me was one of the most beautiful ponds I have ever seen.
It was June and the tiny lake was awash in vibrant greens, the water surrounded by large old trees. The sight of it took my breath away and I literally stopped on the side of the road for ten minutes to take in its beauty. For almost a year I had driven a monotonous journey through industrial neighborhoods while this lovely pond sat waiting for me. Two weeks later the detour sign came down, but I kept turning left.
For the last year of my time at Kent State, the detour became the main road for me, and although it took an extra ten minutes I looked forward to the ride each morning. Summer gave way to a beautiful autumn of ever-changing colors and falling leaves reflected in the pond's still water. Winter arrived, first with a barren brownness, then giving way to a snowy wonderland and a frozen lake of pure white. Spring arrived with bursting buds of lovely lime-green that shone in the pond like an Impressionist painting and finally returned to the glorious deep summer-green that had greeted me the year before. The detour became more than a way to get to school; it became a teacher and a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us if we are only willing to stray off the path on which we are set.
How many times in our lives do we look back and curse the detours, the times when the promotion did not happen, when the relationships did not work out, the roads closed, the acceptance letters that never came-only to discover that those very detours led to wonderful experiences we would not have had should the main road have remained open?
Of course, not all detours lead to beautiful ponds. But any detour can offer us something new and unexpected. We can curse these detours or we can open our hearts to them. We can choose to accept them while grasping the possibilities, or we can fight to stay on the main road. What detours has life thrown you lately and what plans do you have that may be blocking the new path?