I have a dear friend who has a remarkable innate sense of direction. You could probably drop her into the middle of any town and give her a map and a few minutes to orient herself and she’s good to go. Sometimes I’ll be talking to her on the phone telling her I am planning to go a particular store or restaurant. I can hear her mind start working, and a moment or two later she’ll say, “Oh, that’s down by the corner of Crooks and 15 Mile. It’s on the east corner right up the street from a CVS. The best way to get there would probably be to go down…” and proceed to tell me how to get there, the landmarks to watch for, and approximately how long it might take. She can tell me how to get from point A to point B anywhere within about a 50-mile radius. She’s like a human GPS system. This always amazes me. Of course, I can get lost in a parking lot, so I am easily impressed.
I wonder what it would be like to live like that; to have an innate sense of where you might want your life to go. I know some people who have charted out their lives, mapping various steps along the way. They might make adjustments here or there as they move forward, but for the most part they have a very clear sense of what they want to do and what it will take for them to get there. They perhaps make allowances for the occasional unexpected thing and keep on stepping.
Then there are people like me who get lost in parking lots. For us, our journeys through life can feel much less organized. We have a vague idea of which way we want to head, but tend to step out there and start walking without sitting down and mapping out a detailed plan. The interesting thing is that sometimes the planners and the meanderers end up in the same place at roughly the same time. One journey might be directed and focused and the other unscripted and spontaneous. Each gets to the destination, but through very different means taking very different routes.
I used to lament my lack of organized focus. I so envied the planners who’d charted out their paths. They have solid careers, have saved and have plenty of money in their 401k to retire in relative ease. They have worked for the same organization for 20 or 30-plus years and are vested, have various stock options, and have enjoyed a clean and uncluttered path to success. My own career has truly meandered from this to that, place to place, job to job. Anyone charting my career would look at it and ask, “What took you so long to get here?” There was no clear point A to point B for me, some of it was accident, “coincidence,” or dumb luck, peppered with a healthy dose of hard work, perseverance (there’s that word again), resilience, and creativity. I don’t want to make it sound that I had no guidance and no sense of direction; let’s just say I had a very circuitous and eventful journey to where I am today.
So let’s think back to Jesus for a moment (this is Lent, after all.) If ever there were anyone who knew they had a destiny and understood the plan for his life almost from the beginning, it was he. I think that was the “son of God” part versus the “son of Man.” In spite of the fact that his life was laid out before him, I have little doubt that he figured out how to make things work in such a way that he could tolerate and perhaps even introduce elements of surprise and the occasional messiness. And while his last days of anguish and suffering were anything but organized and tidy, they were nonetheless predicted, as was his death and return from the dead. His life, his journey was laid out before him, he simply had to walk it.
The old folks used to say, “Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey,” that is to say that, although the journey may have been rough, filled with as many obstacles and challenges as victories and successes, they wouldn’t trade it, swap it out with anyone else for any price. On the whole, I think they’re right. For me, I wouldn’t trade the whole journey, but I definitely wouldn’t mind swapping out a few things. Nevertheless, all those experiences have been woven together to make me who I am, and while I’m not always sure I know where I’m going, I continue to get confirmation that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I see no contradiction between those two statements. It’s the kind of paradoxical untidiness I am accustomed to.
So the journey of these 40 days is allowing me to contemplate aloud a variety of life questions and issues. Is it possible to be closing in on the doorway to my 60th year and still feel as though I don’t know anything, that I’m just getting started? There are days when that feels perfectly okay and other times when my “destiny” feels elusively close. At those times, there’s nothing to be done except be patient, live in the moment, and continue to allow the great unfolding of life to occur. At the end of the day, that’s really all we have. And so it goes.