Off the Beaten Path

Have you ever asked yourself, “How did I get here?” I’ve been there before and even still I find myself there from time to time. Whether it has to do with a relationship that’s fallen apart, a habit that seems impossible to break, whether or not we are in great physical shape, or any of the other countless scenarios that involve us walking down a path step by step until suddenly, we realize we are nowhere near where we want to be.

I remember a day when I was younger, I don’t remember if it was late elementary or middle school, but I was out playing with my neighbor in a small creek that ran behind our houses. It was a nice day and the two of us started walking along the ditch and playing out some sort of wilderness scenario in our imaginations where we were exploring uncharted territories.

We kept walking until that creek ended at a small dirt road. Not ready to end the adventure, we followed the dirt road until it ended at a small path. We continued on until eventually the path was gone. Now we were trailblazing. The adventure seemed to be calling us onward. How could we stop now? We pressed on deeper and deeper into the woods until we had no idea where we were or where we had come from. Explorers don’t have time for fear or rational thought, so we pressed forward until we heard noises. At first, it sounded like water we moved toward it, maybe we were back at the creek. We continued on as the noise got louder and louder. It was way too loud for our small creek. We pressed on until we saw the end of the trees up in the distance. The noises became clearer, it was traffic. A lot of traffic. We pressed forward until we emerged from the woods and found ourselves on the side of a very busy highway outside of our neighborhood. We were shocked and immediately asked, “How did we end up here?”

Immediately we knew we had to get home. If the traffic didn’t kill us, our parents certainly would. We were way past where we were supposed to be. The good news was, we knew the way back, the bad news was it was going to be about a 30-minute walk. We started walking until someone shouted our names. Another good news-bad news situation played out. Good news, we were going to get a ride home. The bad news, it was my mom that found us. Apparently, we had been gone for hours and she and my neighbor’s mom had been searching for us. Our house was about 5 minutes away, but those five minutes were the longest of my life up to that point. How did we end up there? We lost our way when we left the path we were supposed to be on then, step by step, we got further and further off course until we ended up somewhere, we never intended to go.

Remembering this story reminds me of a story in 2 Kings 6. The prophet, Elisha, is with a group of guys who are working on a building project. One of them drops his ax in the river and assumes its lost forever. Here’s the worse news, it was a borrowed ax. He goes to Elisha and asks for help. The first question Elisha asks is one that we often ask when our kids misplace their shoes, but not often when we lose the path in our life, “Where did it fall?” In other words, Elisha is asking, “Where was the last place you saw it?” or “Where did you lose it?” Miraculously, Elisha cuts a stick, throws it in the river, and the ax floats out of the river exactly where it fell. So how does this all relate?

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, in the moments when we ask, “How did I get here?” we can look back and see the point that our feet left the path. If we are honest with ourselves, we know where the ax head fell. There was a choice, a decision, a moment where we turned off of the path that God laid before us. At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal. There was an adventure, it was fun, it was exciting. But suddenly we look around and the life that is playing out in front of us is nothing like what we imagined. How did we get here? What do we do now?

We look where it fell. We backtrack to the point where we were walking with God and experiencing Him regularly. We get back on the path, and we run home. If my friend and I had made that decision that day, we could have saved a lot of energy, awkwardness, and pain both for ourselves and our parents. Look around. Does the life that you’re living look like the one you know God has for you? If so, keep doing it. Stay on the path, guard your heart and mind against that urge to step off of it and go your own way. But if it doesn’t, take the time to look where you lost it and get back on the path that God has laid out for you.

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