The Road Not Taken

“The Road Not Taken”

Do you have a dream job? By “dream job” I’m not talking about something you seriously intend to do, though. I’m thinking more of a fantasy occupation. Something you would only consider in an alternate universe where you didn’t have bills to pay or kids to feed or retirement to plan for. It’s something totally different from what you actually do, but you know if you did it, you’d love it and you’d be really good at it.

I do. I could totally see myself as a personal shopper. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a person who puts together outfits for people who don’t like to shop or maybe don’t have time to shop—using their credit cards. I have no immediate plans to give up pastoring and speaking, in case you were wondering. I love what I do. But sometimes I still wonder, What if? What if I had gone into fashion? What would it be like to have taken a different path in life? To have made different choices? If we are honest with ourselves, we live a lot of our lives under the seductive sway of what if. I don’t mean that we are bitter, angry, regretful people—I don’t regret becoming a pastor at all. Becoming a personal shopper isn’t my backup plan in case this whole pastoring thing doesn’t work out. I just mean that sometimes we spend a lot of time second-guessing ourselves. Wondering about what it would be like if we had made different choices. Wishing we could go back in time and try it again.

There is a place for evaluating the past, of course. If we make mistakes, we should learn from them. That’s wisdom. Our mistakes are some of our best teachers. And yes, the future is to some extent under our control. I’m not advocating that we forget where we came from or lose focus on where we are going. Please don’t misunderstand me here. But we can only live in today. The past is gone and the future is not guaranteed. We have to make the most of each moment, and we can’t do that if we are constantly looking back and wondering if we should have taken a different path. The poet Robert Frost wrote this in his poem “The Road Not Taken.” I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. The poem is a commentary on the power of choice. Our decisions might seem small in the moment, but they direct our lives. Someday we’ll look back on them and see the difference they made. But right now, we can’t see everything that lies down the road. And that fact can either stress us out or make us lean completely on God. It’s our choice.

Paul referenced the past-present-future components of life in this well-known passage on peace:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)

He said “tell God what you need” (future) and “thank him for all he has done” (past). The result will be an ongoing experience of God’s peace in the present. Sometimes I think we are too quick to assign labels to our choices. We make a decision, then something unexpected happens and all of sudden we think that we blew it. We label it a bad decision and kick ourselves for being so dumb. But often, we simply don’t know. Even when we think we do. We might not know if a particular choice was a mistake or a win for years. Maybe not ever. A better approach would be to look at the past and thank God for it. Even the tough parts. Even the mistakes and the pain. Not out of some masochistic idea that God wants us to suffer, but out of a recognition that God is so big and so good and so completely sovereign that he takes even our blunders and uses them for our good. One of the keys to living in peace is being able to rest in the fact that even in our freewill choices, God still takes care of us.

I know there are consequences for our actions. We shouldn’t flippantly sin or purposefully make poor choices. I think we all agree on that. But if we think that every tiny choice is going to have eternal, unalterable, and possibly fatal consequences in our lives and the lives of those around us, the word paranoid won’t even begin to describe us. We will live under the constant shadow of what if, and it will steal our hope and our faith for the paths we’ve chosen.

Spending too much time second-guessing the past can keep us from changing things that need to be changed right now. Our insecurity about our decisions makes us hold on to things that are no longer working, because we think changing them would be admitting to failure. But again—who’s to say it was a failure? Maybe it was perfect for the moment, but it’s time to move on. And if your new decision or path doesn’t work down the road, change it again. Or even go back to the first path.

Whatever you do, do it fully convinced that God is guiding your steps, even if you don’t see him or sense him. Your future is in his hands, so his peace can permeate your present.

Questions for Reflection

• Do you second-guess your decisions very often? Why or why not?

• How can you learn from your mistakes without constantly living in the past?

• How does being grateful for your past help you have peace in your present and faith for your future?

Excerpt From

Life Is _____ Forty-Day Experience

Judah Smith