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Ever found yourself zipping down the road of life, traveling in a fairly straight line, only to discover that you’ve unexpectedly run out of road and are facing a dead end?
I think we’ve all been there from time to time, haven’t we? Probably more than once.
If you’ve been traversing this planet for any length of time, you understand that dead ends happen; it’s just part of the deal. Even so, when the path runs out on us it usually comes as something of a shock. Things were going so well and then, Bam! They’re not. Everything comes to grinding halt and we’re left feeling confused and more than a little surprised, maybe even gobsmacked.
“Gobsmacked” by the way, is one of my favorite words and an excellent example of why I am so enamored of British colloquialisms. They’re so vivid. In case you weren’t aware, “gob” an Irish/Scottish/English slang word for mouth – connect it with the word “smack” and you get a pretty clear picture of someone who is so surprised they are rendered speechless.
Right. So much for today’s edition of “Increasing Your Word Power!” Let’s get back to those things that often leave us feeling gobsmacked, those shocking dead ends.
This week, I hit one.
The details don’t matter here. All that you need to know is that I’ve run up against it – one of those oh-so-predictable but also completely surprising dead ends that make a formerly straight path suddenly less so.
FINDING A NEW ROAD
You should also know that I am fine. Really and truly. I’m not dealing with anything tragic or life threatening, so you don’t need to worry about me or send cards, or letters, or emails, or Facebook messages or anything like that. It’s all good here. If you feel like it, you could pray that I will be granted wisdom, discernment, and clarity. That’s something I can always use but especially at times like this.
After shaking off the shock of running into a dead end, we usually see that our initial assessment was wrong. We’re actually not dealing with a dead end but a crossroads, a point at which we have only two options – stay right where we are forever and ever, or make a choice and head in a new direction.
But since staying stuck really isn’t an option (or certainly not a good one) we quickly realize that our only choice to make a choice. But which choice is the right choice? What direction should you head in next? And what will happen if you make a bad choice? That’s the stuff that keeps us awake at night, doesn’t it?
Right now, my crossroads feels more like one of those cloverleaf intersections on the Los Angeles freeway. There are about fifteen different roads in front of me, all leading in different directions.
Which road should I take? That’s what I’ve got to figure out.
One of the many advantages of life beyond 50 is that this isn’t my first crossroad. I’ve picked up a few tips about what to do when a straight path suddenly becomes chaotic.
TAKE A BREATH AND TAKE YOUR TIME
Running out of road, hitting that dead end or crossroad, can be shocking, confusing, emotional, and very unsettling.
I’m sure there are people out there who relish change. I am not one of them. I’ve learned to deal with change but I’ve never fallen in love with it and don’t expect to. And the thing I dislike even more than change?
Uncertainty. That’s the worst.
But over the years, I’ve learned to resist the urge to tie up loose ends too soon for the sake of certainty. The smart thing to do when you’re standing at the crossroads is to actually stand there – at least for a while. Don’t rush to judgment if you don’t have to. Definitely not while you’re still feeling gobsmacked, or angry, or hurt.
The decisions I have most regretted were those that were based on emotion rather than fact. If you think back, I bet you can say the same thing.
So take a breath. Take your time. Be willing to live with the uncertainty a little longer than is comfortable. You’ll be glad you did later.
PROCESS YOUR FEELINGS AND YOUR CHOICES
If you feel angry, hurt, betrayed, or confused while at the crossroads, it’s important to process those emotions. You might need to talk about it, write about it, journal about it, think about it, or pray about it before you’re able to move forward.
Personally, I prefer an “all of the above” approach. I do whatever it takes to work through my feelings so I can start stripping away the emotion. Then I’m in a position to start processing the facts logically, sorting through the risks and rewards, pros and cons of the choices before me.
I use that same “all of the above” approach when processing those choices. Before I make a big decision, I journal, write lists, talk to people I trust, and to God – a lot.
PRAY FOR WISDOM AND WISE COUNSELERS
I’ve said before, this is not a faith-based blog but I am a faith-based person. When I face life challenges, I do so on the basis of and in the context of my Christian faith. For me, doing so means relying on prayer, never more so than when I’m facing difficult decisions.
In times like this, I turn my Bible to James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Fervent, sincere, and open-minded prayer – the kind that listens rather than shows up with a list of suggestions – is an important step in finding wisdom and, in turn, making wise decisions.
Another important means of finding wisdom is to seek the input of wise counselors. Wise counselors will listen intently and give you an honest, unvarnished opinion. They will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
Part of finding wisdom, perhaps the most important part for me, is being thankful for the loving, active presence of a wise and caring God in my life, as described in Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Isn’t that great? Small wonder that this is one of my favorite verses.
REMEMBER WHERE YOU’VE BEEN
Confronting a crossroads is rarely fun and almost never easy. But the wonderful thing about my life, a life filled with experience, is that I know the discomfort I feel is temporary. This too, shall pass.
The other thing I know and believe with all my heart, a belief that has been backed up by experience, is that somewhere in all the tangle and confusion I now find myself in, there is a plan. A good one. It might take me a while to sort it out, but it’s there.
A SINGLE THREAD TO FOLLOW
More than 10 years ago, I wrote a book called A Single Thread. Near the end, the main character, Evelyn Dixon, offers a reflection that is very relevant to this topic.
If Evelyn were a real, skin-on human, she would definitely qualify as a wise counselor. Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with her thoughts on this subject. If, like me, you’re feeling a little gobsmacked just now, maybe they’ll be of help to you. I hope so.
I always tell my students that quilts are made up of straight lines, but it isn’t true. Quilts are made up of broken lines, just like life. Over and over again, we try to walk a straight path but run into dead ends, sharp corners, and uneven ground that cuts us off and forces us to change direction. Sometimes it’s painful, other times joyful. But it isn’t until you take a moment to stand still, step off the line, and back away that you finally see the truth. Those unexpected turns and startling about faces, the chaotic path? It wasn’t chaotic at all. When you step back to see where you’ve been, you discover the shape, the reason, the intricately beautiful pattern and vivid colors of a life stitched together from what, at one point, had seemed nothing more than mismatched scraps and broken lines. Stepping back, you see there had been a design all along, and a Designer.
Hang in there, Fierce Friend.
Things may seem confusing right now but, trust me, there’s a plan.