I’ve got a very, shall we say, challenged sense of direction, which I inherited from my father (thanks, Dad!). Unlike my husband, for whom it is nearly impossible to get lost, I know what it is to end up on roads I never intended to take. Roads that take me far from where I want to be.
I was thinking about this as I read Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The psalmist was asking God to get him on the right road relationally. The Passion Translation words the prayer as: “See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, and lead me . . . back to you.”
Path of pain. We end up on those sometimes, don’t we? And most times, unintentionally so. Just as I don’t purposely set out to get lost or stuck directionally, neither do I plan to travel a path of pain relationally.
But both happen. And I often need help, like the psalmist, to find my way back home.
For me, the path of pain is often a false narrative I’ve walked down. An untrue or only partially true story I tell myself about myself or others, about my situations or circumstances — and sometimes even about God.
I find we travel paths of pain in our thinking, believing, behaving and relating. They are like side trails on which we become disoriented and lost, bogged down by brambles and brush.
But then again, I’ve been on some of those paths with such regularity they’ve become well-worn, and I can confuse them entirely for the right road.
Regardless of what they look like, these paths of pain never take me anywhere I want to go. Ever. They are consistent that way. They lead me to places like shame, isolation and paralysis.
They are, after all, paths of pain.
My spiritual director introduced me to what she named the unholy trinity of perfectionism, performance and people-pleasing. I immediately recognized them as paths of pain.
I added to the list things such as: pride, pretension and panic; prejudice, possessiveness and presumption; predicting, proving and protecting; pushiness, pettiness and projecting; perseverating (which means to repeat or get stuck), postponing and procrastinating.
And, just for good measure, politics and pandemics.
Paths of pain, all.
When I find myself on one of these, I need my inner-GPS (aka the Holy Spirit) to reroute me until I’m once again safely on the right road. But, sadly, I don’t always heed the directions or corrections. Sometimes, I keep going headlong into harm.
The prophet Jeremiah’s words let me know I’m not alone in this. “Thus says the Lord,” he wrote, “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
If we stop reading there, Jeremiah’s words sound lovely. Hopeful and reassuring. But that’s not the end of the verse. It continues, revealing the defiant response of the people who rebelliously replied, “We will not walk in it.”
Instead of heeding, they went headlong into harm.
The Voice translation of that verse says, “Stand at the crossing and consider.” It’s an invitation to stop and think before acting. To pause and ponder before proceeding. Heeding such wisdom could save us.
I believe there is an intersection where the path of pain and the path of peace cross one another, and we get to decide which road to take. “Go stand at the crossroads and look around,” The Message paraphrase says. “Ask for directions . . . then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.”
Ask for directions, and then take them. Excuse me, could you please point me toward the path of peace? I seem to have gotten lost and can’t find my way back home.
I relate well to the psalmist who cried out: “I have wandered down the wrong path like a lost sheep; come find me” (Psalm 119:176, Voice).
As a person with a bad sense of direction and a propensity to stray down paths of pain, that last prayer has become a favorite of mine: Come find me.
I can’t always find my own way home. However, I can stop going in the wrong direction and cry out for help. Any time of any day, we can ask for a course correction to the right direction, where we can find rest for our souls.