My July Life Lines column, now running in Catholic New York:
Dennis bought a portable GPS for our van a few months back. The first time I had to travel out of state, he loaded it up with my destination coordinates and told me I had nothing to worry about. Since I always have something to worry about, I went on the computer and printed out directions, studying them before I left home so I would know if our GPS, whom we affectionately refer to as Katniss in honor of the Hunger Games heroine, decided to lead me astray. Every time Katniss would bark out a command, I’d run through my mental directions to ensure we agreed on the route. I was prepared, at a moment’s notice, to go my own way.
Dennis, on the other hand, trusts GPS Katniss implicitly. On a recent trip to the Bronx Zoo, a path he has driven many times to a neighborhood not far from where we used to live, he decided to defer to Katniss when she instructed us to get off the highway and take an unknown route through New Jersey. I said, “No way,” when I heard her instructions. Dennis said, “Let’s see.”
Maybe if our GPS could show me in advance exactly what she had planned, I’d be able to handle the sudden switch, but going mile by mile, never knowing where she’ll take us next is just a little too much for my Type-A, obsessively planned out existence. I want to be in control. I want to know all of the twists and turns at the outset.
Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. I seem to take the same control-based approach in my spiritual life. One of my biggest spiritual “problems” has to be my inability to trust I will get to my destination -- my destiny -- without knowing the exact route, and maybe even with some annoying physical or spiritual detours along the way.
So much of our spiritual journey is about trusting that what’s ahead will get us where we need to be, where we’re meant to be, even when the path seems totally off course and through a terrible section of highway. We want to stay with the tried and true: the prayer methods that always used to work, even when they no longer seem to be working; the tight-fisted hold of the spiritual reins, when what God really requires is a loosening, a surrendering; the days we fill with spiritual and mental “busywork,” instead of sinking into silence so we can better accept and understand why we’re being told to take a turn into uncharted waters.
Every time I find myself heading in a spiritual direction that feels unfamiliar or like a possible dead end, I begin my own version of the GPS “recalculating” default. I start trying to figure everything out so I can right my listing ship. I seek out books that might give me answers, work myself into a spiritual tizzy with anxiety over what might be coming next, talk till I’m blue in the face in hopes of figuring it all out.
The day we went off course on the way to the Bronx Zoo, it looked like Katniss had won the day, and then we hit the inevitable standstill traffic due to construction. I felt myself tense up, thinking we would have been just fine if only we’d stayed with our usual route. But we still got there, and in plenty of time to catch the sea lion feeding, as we had hoped. We just didn’t get there the way we originally planned. And maybe sometimes that’s half the fun -- in life and in prayer.