Several years ago, one of our church leaders told a story about driving through Southern Utah with his son. As the skies darkened and they were heading home, they reached an unfamiliar fork in the road. His son prayed to know which way to go, and they were impressed to go right. After about 500 yards, they ran into a dead end. They turned around and headed down the other fork, safely returning home.
The son later asked his father why they had been directed down the wrong path. After some thought, he responded:
I think that the Lord, His wish for us there, and his answer to our prayer was to get us on the right road as quickly as possible with some reassurance, with some understanding, that we were on the right road and we didn’t have to worry about it, and in this case, the easiest way to do that was to let us go 400 yards or 500 yards on the wrong road, and very quickly know, without a doubt, that it was the wrong road, and therefore with equal certainty with equal conviction that the other one was the right road.
On first hearing, I did not understand this story. Usually, the way stories like this go, the truck turns to left and drives for hours as the sun gives way to night, and just as the weary travelers are about to give up hope, they come upon the main highway, rewarded by the long trial of their faith. I don’t think I had ever heard a story about God purposely telling someone to go the wrong way.
But with years of additional experience behind me, now I understand.
First, drive with people worth your time. Walt Whitman once wrote “I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” People acquire money and power so they don’t have to cultivate companions: They can simply order around serfs and lackeys. Serfs and lackeys trade on money and power, and get to blame others for their actions. Avoid these people. They aren’t worth it. They certainly don’t think you’re worth it.
Second, people who don’t understand the value of a dead end either haven’t run into one, or just kept going anyway. For example, the Republican experiment is at a dead end, and yet millions of people continue to drive the road just as before. When they reach the dead end, they drive into it, attempt to dynamite it, or claim it was their destination all along and build themselves luxury condominiums next door to it. Much better to justify than correct the error.
Third, the lessons learned while traversing these dead-end paths can only do us good when we find the right roads. I gained very little of what the world believes to be important, but I am a better husband, father, and friend from my dead-end experiences.
For those who recognize their dead ends as what they are, the rewards may not be fully appreciated until you turn around and go the other way. It doesn’t take long to experience the comfort of having absolute assurance that after traveling the wrong road for so long, you now can travel other roads so much longer, more interesting, and beautiful. There are other destinations to see, and better people—people not content with staring at the wall all day—to sit next to you.