I have decided that New York City is the best place to live if you want to take the long way around. Recently, in order to get home, I had to take four detours. The first was on Park Avenue, where police were sending everyone north because of construction. We turned again because of a parade. Then a street fair. Then traffic came to a stop because of a man who had chosen the middle of Third Avenue to stop and rant about issues of the day.
And so it goes in our fair city. You’re trying to go one way, but thanks to construction, or traffic, or a parade, or a man in the middle of Third Avenue on a rant, you have to take the long way around.
We’ve all been there.
Maybe you've had to take the long way around because of a traffic detour.
Perhaps, you feel you’re taking the long way around in your job because you didn’t get the raise or promotion you wanted or because your career path is taking twists and turns.
Maybe you are in a relationship that seems to be taking the long way around.
Or maybe you've had to take the long way around thanks to an injury or illness that has sidelined us.
And it’s so frustrating when that happens. But frustrating as it is, taking the long way may sometimes be the best thing that can happen to us.
Let’s take a look at one of the all-time best stories about taking the long way around, from an ancient story in the book of Exodus: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” (Exodus 13:17-18)
God knew the Israelites—their fears, their hopes, what they were capable of, and where they might fall. So God picked a route for them. It may not have been the fastest route. In fact, it was a roundabout way through the wilderness. But it was a route that took them away from danger, away from things that would throw them off their path, a route that would get them to the promised land.
It’s a lesson we all need. Sometimes the long way around is best because we’re not ready for the direct route.
Before seminary, I was lucky enough to do a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. The trick to getting to the top was to pick the right guide. Some tour groups would take you up Kilimanjaro by the quick route—straight up the backside in three days. The problem with the quick route is that you had no time to acclimate to the elevation and 19,000 feet, which can lead to not only failure but serious illness as well. Thank goodness I chose a guide who took the long route. It took six to seven days, but the success rate was significantly higher because your body had time to adjust.
In life it’s the same thing. Sometimes we need to take the long route around because we’re not ready to arrive. We don’t yet have the emotional, psychological, or spiritual strength for the direct route. We need time. And if we rush it, we may give out, or we turn back because of dangers we aren’t strong enough to face yet.
- Where in your life do you feel you are on the long way around?
- Why do you think you’ve been led that way?
Our human fears and frustrations about taking the long way around were perhaps best expressed by Thomas Merton when he penned this prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
A longer version of this blog was also given as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.