“No Outlet – Dead End”

These days, everyone seems to rely on some form of electronic map to get from Point A to Point B. Not only do these systems direct you “left” and “right,” they chirp cheerfully when traffic builds up or a cop is ahead. No matter how sophisticated the chirp or the English accent of the system – at some point, each one will send you in the wrong direction. Sometimes they may be off by a street or two. Sometimes, more. Once, I ended up at a similar address that was forty-five minutes from where I was supposed to be. Sometimes, you are led the wrong-way up a one-way street or land at a dead end.

You’ve been there. What’d you do? If like most people, you just pull to the side of the road and set up camp. That’s right. Pull a tent out of the back of the car. Lay down roots Make a new home. Yep -right there in front of the sign reading “No Outlet – Dead End.” You just read that last piece again. You thought that you misread it the first time and now, you think I’m crazy. People don’t really end their journeys this way when GPS gets it wrong. That would be crazy.

We’d all agree that we shouldn’t carry a tent in our car trunks and pop it up on the side of the road when the GPS sends us left instead of right. That would be crazy.

If this option makes little sense on a physical journey, why does it make sense on our spiritual journeys?

How many times have we hit a “No Outlet – Dead End” sign on our spiritual journeys? The tumor has grown. The plant is shutting down. The crops didn’t produce this season. The other woman is getting the attention that your family deserves. One little drink (or one hit) won’t hurt. The phone rings in the middle of the night.

How many times have we hit the “No Outlet” sign and just set up camp there?

What keeps us moving along a physical journey when the map app gets it wrong? We know we don’t belong at the spot where it has taken us. We know that there is a better spot – the one we are trying to get to – where we do belong. The same is true on our spiritual journeys. We know we don’t belong at this spot. We know that there is a better spot waiting for us.

There was a day when we didn’t have all of the electronics and satellites directing our paths. Way back when, sailors used stars to navigate darkened nights. Explorers and cartographers generated maps for us. Not so long ago, publishers printed books of maps, atlases, so that we could plot our own journeys. If you remember paper maps (or if you still use them), then you know that roadblocks and missteps are a part of the journey. Printers can’t keep up with roads that are closed for construction or alternate routes due to accidents or popup speed traps at the end of a month. When life threw a kink in the road, we had to pull out the map and re-route ourselves. It was all part of the journey.

Somewhere along the way, we abandoned the journey. Life got fast. Our buzzing electronics can now re-route us faster than Opie can yip, “Gee, Paw.” There’s no need to stop and assess the landscape. Satellites to the rescue. Too bad that our buzzing electronics don’t work the same for those spiritual roadblocks. The spiritual roadblocks stop us in our tracks and force us to assess the landscape.

How’d we end up here? Did we ignore clear direction taking a “left” when we meant to turn “right?” Is the rubble blocking our road there truly by no fault of our own? Regardless, we haven’t arrived at our final destinations. We must continue to move forward. Sometimes, moving forward might mean backtracking to the fork in the road. Sometimes, the road behind us in left in such a state of destruction that we must find a new path forward.Road Pic

Sometimes, it’s okay to turn off the engine and rest our heads on the steering wheel. After taking a deep breath (and maybe a few more), the next step is to venture out into the roadway. Start moving the rubble that blocks our paths – piece by piece. Chances are that another traveler will pass by and help with the heavy lifting until there is enough room to maneuver around safely. (If you are like me, you will be tempted to throw some of that rubble in the trunk. Don’t do it! It will only weigh you down. Your gas mileage will suffer and your vehicle will be a mess.)

If you are uncertain which way to go once you’ve made a U-turn or the debris cleared, the ultimate “Atlas” is filled with stories of lost travelers. We don’t belong at the crossroads of “Heartache and Hurt.” There is a better waypoint – the crossroads of “Healing and Hope.”

That’s not meant to sound trite. Yet, well-meaning messages encouraging hope so often end up sounding that way. Well-meaning sentiments intended to sing to the soul claw at the heart like nails on a chalkboard –

Everything happens for a reason.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

She’s in a better place.

There is a better waypoint – the crossroads of “Healing and Hope.”

Even when these things are true, they can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Hope doesn’t take away today’s pain. Rather, hope is the perspective that allows us to process today’s pain. Hope is the front end loader that lifts the heavy debris. Hope clears a path so that we continue our journey. Hope keeps us from setting up camp before we reach our ultimate destinations.

Hope reroutes us when all signs read “No Outlet – Dead End.”


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