Where I Misread the Signs

“We don’t know if this is trial or temptation. We don’t know how this will turn out. All we can do is be faithful today.”

I had just described a situation to my mentor—an emotional and relational thicket that’s choking a path I’ve been hacking away to find all year—and this was his response.

It’s not exactly the signpost I was asking for.

If I’m honest, I was asking for even more than a signpost.

I wanted a billboard with big arrows in red flashy lights and a zooming font that says *YOURFUTURE*, one with a picture of exactly what I want today behind bold words that read “THATWAY”.

marquee lights- bricks

And I’d follow that sign, hacking my way just a little longer up this Hamburger Hill to the crest where the thicket clears and I look out over a glorious city and I hear the booming voice of God: “That. That is the Promised Land. That is what I have for your life.”

And magically, it will look exactly like everything I always wanted and expected.

Except we’ve learned that’s not how this works.

When I think I’ve seen a sign like that, he’s learned it’s time to start asking questions.

It’s time to slow down. We may even have to backtrack a little to the last weather-worn signpost we saw and consult our shred of map again.

mapandcandleYou see, he’s heard me claim one of those billboards before. We cheered and celebrated and I charged ahead.  A  few weeks later I had to call for help from the bottom of a ravine I’d slid into. A few months later I was still wandering along the bottom of it.

I was telling the truth when I said I saw something that sent me ahead—heard something—but now I don’t know what it meant. Even though I had never been there before, I thought reading the signs (which, admittedly, are not in my native language) would be enough to know exactly where I was going. I didn’t read the signs for which way to go, I took the signs as confirmation I was headed the right direction.

I thought the signs were like that time my friends and I were trying to drive back to Minneapolis from Spring Break in Orlando. Nearly three hours into the drive, we realized they were counting the turnpike miles to Miami.

The thing is, the signs before that told us we were headed to Fort Drum, Fort Pierce, and West Palm Beach. Not knowing anything about Florida geography, those places could be either north or south of Orlando.  We had to be pretty far down the wrong road before we saw that major landmark where we knew it.

And highway signs are easier to read than Holy ones.

 In faith, I believe what I saw and heard were signs that God was with me on that hill, in that ravine, and that He was speaking. I work harder against the urge to finish God’s sentences.

I treat the signs differently now.

It turns out the bigger and flashier and more certain the billboard, the more likely I did most of the painting.  And in my own brokenness, chasing my own unfulfilled longing, with my very limited vision, my painting or even reading skills are not to be trusted. At least not like they were.

I know now how little I know about what comes next and where I am going.

You have to go pretty far down the wrong road to know just how hell-bent you are.

I used to think God spoke to me like a dinner gong—that it rang and I’d go running to receive my blessing then I could go back to doing what I pleased until it rang again.

Dorothy Leviny - Brass Dinner Gong c1930

That His voice was so loud and so clear that I wouldn’t have to wrestle, that I couldn’t make a mistake. All I had to do was stay put until the gong rang. Then I’d go and it would be clear and everyone would meet me there and we’d have all arrived at the same place at the same time and we’d be happy to see one another.

But it doesn’t work like this, either. There’s no gong. No holy gavel calling us to order. And we don’t all hear it at the same time and arrive in the same place at once.  I can’t count on that as a sign.

There’s only  a tiny bell that’s so faint I’m not even sure I heard it.

It rings, drawing me deeper.

It draws me deeper into this life—deeper into the thicket—where it doesn’t matter if I am being refined by trial or tempted to the point of distraction, because God is here, in it with me.

All I can do is stay faithful to the day that I’ve been given, faithful to the people I’ve been given in it.

And if I read the signs wrong, if I’m headed the wrong way, I can promise to make the next legal U-turn.

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