But then, if you came across someone else's tracks, and you walked in their grooves (especially if a parent made them), it was much easier.
Maybe a winter scenario doesn't relate to you (our resident seminarian at church who preached tonight shared a story of snowshoeing and coming across someone else's tracks which made it much easier). Many times I have hiked through the woods and been on a path of my own creating. It's fun. It's adventurous. But after a while it gets tiring to keep scrambling over downed trees, pushing aside branches, schlepping through miry wet spots, or forging a path through tight brambles. I breathe a sigh of relief when I finally come back to a real trail.
In Isaiah 43:19 God says, "I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland" (NLT). It's that same sort of image--suddenly there is a way. You know for certain which direction to go and the traveling is much easier. You don't need to be parched anymore. Refreshing water is available.
Right now I'm at a point in life where the way doesn't seem too clear. Once my wife is finished with her doctoral degree in a few years, I'm not sure what my career path will look like. I'm not sure where we'll be living. Will I be back in ministry or will I be able to do more writing? Will I be the one in grad school pursuing a degree so I could be a professor some day? And if so, in what? Will we still be living in a city or will we finally be able to move back to the country?
So I like the thought of God making a pathway through the wilderness. When I try to make a pathway on my own, I end up in bad places sometimes. And it's a lot more work. But Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Still, it's not always easy not knowing where the path is going to go. I want a clear, well-defined route. When I drive somewhere, if I look at the route on a map ahead of time, I can generally get there very easily. But we're not often given that clarity. Just a promise and hope along with the general directions (love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself).
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I really like one other piece of Isaiah 43 that we heard in church tonight: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" (43:18-19, NIV). God's not saying to not pay attention to the past at all (right before this Isaiah reminds Israel of God's faithfulness in making a way for them through the Red Sea during the Exodus); He is saying that the sinful cycles of our lives, the bad decisions we've made, the regrets we have--these do not define us and our future (especially in God's eyes). He is going to do new things in our lives.
So while I have a hard time with not knowing the path ahead, I rest well in the knowledge that is a good path. On it will be freedom, forgiveness, mercy, and love. And with that ahead, I can keep moving forward.