On my way home from the post office today I got “lost”, as I frequently do while trying to navigate the complicated streets of down-town Khon Kaen. Fortunately this time instead of going completely across town before figuring out how to get back on track, I only went in a circle once, then after realizing what I had done, made a turn the opposite way and thus arrived on the correct route once more.
My navigational difficulties have not always been that easily corrected.
Every day I drive 12 km round trip to Khon Kaen International School and back, usually in the blistering sun (as hot season is now mercilessly reigning in Thailand), so when I discovered one day that there was a road that went parallel to the road I usually turn on 1 km further, my mind immediately translated that into being a possible short cut. I couldn’t see the end of the road as I drove past it, but I could only assume that it would lead me to the road I needed to turn on later. If it did connect to my next turn, this route would cut off at least 1 or 2 km of drive time, so on a day that I didn’t have to be home immediately after teaching, I decided to explore this possible shortcut. Disclaimer: While I’ve never been so lost that I haven’t been able to find my way home, I am by no means directionally gifted. I may in fact be the opposite. But from my perspective, this road would have to intersect with the street I needed to turn on at some point, if it did indeed go straight, so there shouldn’t be that much danger in testing it out.
I drove for at least 15 minutes before I found myself in familiar territory again. And 15 extra minutes of driving in the hot sun is not something I want to repeat. This is what happened…
As I began driving down the road, I realized that it wasn’t actually parallel with the main road; rather, it was more at an angle. Doesn’t matter, I thought, as long as it intersects with my route eventually. It didn’t. I got to a different intersection where it appeared that if I turned right, I would be going the right direction again. I turned right, but it still didn’t take me back to the road I was supposed to be on. That road ended up curving all sorts of directions until it the pavement disappeared and all that was left was a pothole-ridden, mud pit infested dirt road that even the locals don’t want to drive on. There were rice fields all around me, the houses were each at least half a kilometer apart, cows were in abundance, and every person I saw gave me this bemused look that seemed to mock me for getting lost in the most rural part of town. I could almost hear them saying to themselves, “Look at that poor farang. How on earth did she end up here?” How indeed.
My “shortcut” ended up taking me through multiple twists and turns, and the only thing that kept me from feeling totally lost was the sun beating down my back telling me I was at least going in the right direction towards home. Pretty soon, though, the road made a U-turn, and there were no other roads to turn on, so the sun was now in my eyes as I hopelessly bounced through potholes and mud puddles, hoping to arrive somewhere, anywhere, that would get me back on track. Eventually the dirt road turned back into pavement (a glorious thing indeed for one driving a motorbike), and the pavement led me back to the very same highway I had exited in order to take my “shortcut”. As it turns out, I had done a giant, winding U-turn that landed me about 1 km back from where I started. As I drove back down the highway, I now passed that “shortcut” road with a shudder, thinking to myself, “I will never do that again.” And yet, at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like if I tried going down that road again and turned left instead of right, maybe I would have ended up where I was supposed to be. Either way, I decided to play it safe and take the way I knew would get me home.
Out of curiosity, I looked at a map today and discovered that my shortcut would have indeed worked if I had only followed the signs instead of my misguided instincts. That’s the thing, I’ve learned that my instincts don’t really do well while navigating Thai roads. The roads here don’t interlock, they don’t always travel parallel or perpendicular, and they’re not often easy to drive on. Basically, they’re not American, not conventional, not what I’m used to. Having only lived in Thailand for 6 months, driving for only of 4 of those, I’m not sure what possessed me to take a route I’d never driven before without first looking at a map, because I’m clearly not experienced enough to wing it.
During my impromptu exploration of rural farmlands that day, I tried desperately to think of a reason to be grateful for the situation I had found myself in, but beyond having a funny story to tell, I couldn’t really see any blessings that would come from my unnecessary travels. I desperately wanted to blame God for allowing me to take this route. Why hadn’t He warned me that I was about to waste 15 minutes of my life? I waited for Him to show me something that would have made the extra drive worth it, but besides being able to say I’ve seen a part of Thailand that even the career missionaries here probably haven’t seen, I still only think of that trip as being a waste of gas and energy. However, I think God used that experience to teach me a valuable lesson of why it’s not good to trust my own plans over His. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” My heart told me that this road would get me home faster, but clearly that was an incorrect assumption. I would have been better off sticking to the directions I knew I could trust. I’m also reminded in Isaiah 55:8 that “[His] thoughts are not [my] thoughts, nor are [my] ways [His] ways,” so who am I to think that my plans are going to work out better than His? But sadly, all too often I find myself choosing my way over His and getting hopelessly turned around as a result.
There have been many times in my life where I wanted to take “shortcuts”, but most times they ended up being giant U-turns. Every time that happens I think to myself, “Why did God let me do that? Why didn’t He stop me from wasting all that time and energy on something that wouldn’t work out?” In reality, though, it’s never God’s fault for not stopping me from doing irrational things, it’s my fault for trying to go against His plan – AKA the only route that I can trust to lead me in the right direction. I often think that my instincts are more trustworthy than God’s plan, but just like my experience with that “shortcut” road, my instincts are often misguided. God’s ways are never misguided. They always work out, and they always happen in His perfect timing, which is why we don’t need to be taking shortcuts in the first place. Verse 9 of Isaiah 55 continues, “‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Lesson learned: putting trust in yourself only gets you lost on a dirt road with cows and rice fields; trusting in God’s plans will get you home.