“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken
This is one of the most quoted lines from one of the most famous poems. It’s on coffee cups, t-shirts, and held within barrage of marketing messages. A favorite of many. But, please forgive me, it is not a favorite of mine.
To me, this quote is so limiting and confining. It gives the impression through the way it is used that there are only two choices, and once that choice is made, that is the road you are on. Someone recently quoted it to me in regards to my circumstances in life. There was just something off about it and I have not been able to stop mulling it over.
I dug into some commentaries that talk about the road less traveled in relation to Jesus being the way, the truth and the life. I do not dispute that at all. Jesus is all of that and so much more than words can encompass, especially my silly words. I also have seen this quote applied to Matthew 7:13-14, where it talks of the small gate and narrow road that lead to life, whereas the wide gate and broad road lead to destruction. This is also true, and not what I have been stewing over.
The Bible gives us amazing absolutes to build the foundations of our lives and choices upon. I lean very heavily upon Psalm 119:35 (NIV) “Direct me in the path of your commands for there I find delight.” God’s word is saturated in wisdom and love, mercy and grace, delight and joy.
What has been troubling me is how this quote is applied to the choices of our daily lives. Take for instance, the location we choose to live in…do we live in town or do we live in the country. At this current time in my life, I live in the country. For most of my life I have lived in towns, calling a house in a subdivided neighborhood home. Now I live on a dirt road, on a small acreage farm in the country.
Two roads. Two choices. Two options. Is one good and one bad? Or how about this…be a career mom or an at home mom? Maybe it is this job or that job? Is one good and one bad? Will being on one instead of the other make all the difference in my life? Will I walk in God’s favor and goodness on one road and fall into despair on the other?
Sometimes I think, in an over application of this quote, it is used to attempt to oversimplify life’s complexity. Perhaps this is what has been bothering me the most.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to living in town or in the country, to being an at home mom or a career mom, and to taking one job or another. This quote just gives me the impression that one is right and one is wrong. But what if that is not the case?
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)
This psalm just spoke to me in a new way as I was mulling over this problem in my mind over the two paths. Whether I am living in the country or in the suburbs, God is with me. Whether I am working on my career or have made a career out of working at home, God is with me. No matter which company or organization I am employed with, God is there too.
One of the definitions of the word road is “a course of passage.” A definition of the word course is a “sequence of actions.” The word passage often refers to a portion, a section or a phase.
What if the road we travel is the sequence of actions that we navigate through in a particular phase in our lives?
God has blessed us with an incredible, yet sometimes confounding gift, of free will. The ability to choose. We have the opportunity to choose a lot. We choose big things like who we will marry, and where we will live. We choose little things, will I answer the phone and how will I answer it for this call.
God gives us much helpful advice through Scripture, through friends of faith, through thoughts and promptings of the Spirit, through our prayers, but He leaves the choice in our hands. Advice is a recommendation, not the ability to make the action for us.
This can be quite a conundrum for those of us who are over thinkers, you know the ones who spin speculation circles around the wheels of what if, should have and maybe. Is it good, is it bad, yes or no? Is this the right path or the wrong path? Talk about exhausting. I am guilty of being a part of this club, having cried out God “please just write it for me in neon lights outside my window!”
Then there is the issue of control…how much control do we really have? What can we control? I can not control structural changes in my organization that lead to the elimination of my position. I can not control the decisions my spouse or my children choose to make. I can not control how someone will perceive my written or spoken words. Do I have control over which path to take? Can I choose ALL of the actions that occur?
Here is the thing about living on the dirt road. Sometimes it is wet and muddy. Sometimes it is dry and dusty. On occasion it is the path a skunk chooses to walk on or a snake chooses to slither across. At other times deer strut down the road or pheasants roost on the shoulders. There a moments of glorious sunrises and sunsets, and also times where wind pelts your face with tiny pebbles. Moments feel good, even amazing, and moments feel bad, even downright horrible.
Dirt road living is not the totality of my life. It is the particular phase that I happen to be in right now. In this phase there are actions and reactions. Some of which I cause, some of which I can only respond to. God is here with me. He is 100% available all of the time to give me help and guidance and support along the way. The gift of free will is still mine to have so that I can continue to make choices.
Some decisions I face will be firmly directed by scripture, like “You shall not murder” in Exodus 20:13. I shall not murder my husband, it’s pretty clear on the surface. But even this short and direct command has layers of implications. I shall not take away his abundant life with the power of my words, for that would also be murder.
Some decisions are not laid forth so directly in “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as you do the Lord” in Ephesians 6:22. What does that look like when he makes a decision I am uncertain of or that I disagree with? Do I pout, do I firmly plant myself in place to get my way, or hold him in contempt during future discussions? Do I serve him humbly in love (Galatians 5:13) willingly walking by his side, being covered in mud, facing forward with him even if the dirt road washes out when the storm comes?
My dear readers, do you feel limited to two roads? Do you feel stuck trying to pick one path over another? Do you wonder if maybe you took the wrong road?
Instead of asking those questions…why don’t you try asking these questions?
What particular phase are you navigating through right now?
What sequence of actions lies before you?
What scriptures, or comments, or counsel, or advice apply to your situation that would help you navigate this phase and decide which actions to take?
If you feel like you wish you could go back, could make a different choice, could do something over, ponder this: Do you know that the word navigate means “to move on, over or through”? It does not mean to go back, or to try the same thing again. Ask God to show you His creativity and power to help you move forward, to navigate through the phase you are currently in.
Take heart my dear reader, we serve such a creative and unlimited God. He is not constrained to just two roads. He is a God who creates paths through the sea, a God who shores up rivers when there are no bridges to cross, a Lord who walks on water right out into a storm if needed. Where ever you are at, He can get to you and help you navigate where to go next.
This whole two roads philosophy can really mess with our heads and our hearts. Lord, I pray that You would enlarge our vision and draw us into Your limitless creativity. Lord, help us know that we will never make sense of it all or be able to easily simplify that which confounds us.
Show us how we can continue to navigate through the phases of our lives. Sometimes what we think will be a life long path is only one part of the journey. Help us to travel through the daily sequences of actions and all the associated decisions that we need to make. Help us to take in scriptures, to pray, to seek counsel & advice that can offer us assistance in our decisions.
Most of all help us to trust that You are always with us and available to us whether we are in the heavens or the depths, on the wings of the dawn or the far side of the sea, that Your hand will always hold us fast.
In the unlimited and unconstrained name of Jesus, amen.