Have you experienced a scene like this? Not necessarily in Denver, but somewhere. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure goes up just at the sight of this photo. I hate getting caught in traffic jams like this one. It can throw a huge wrench into your entire day’s plans.
There are times when you have carefully planned out what time to leave the house with what should be the right amount of time to reach your destination. But then, just as soon as you get up to speed on the freeway, all forward movement ceases. There are no alternative routes or exits in sight. There is no way out. You’re stuck. There is nothing you can do to avoid the situation and get on your way. You just have to wait. And exhibit patience. And arrive late to your destination. (I hate being late!)
This happened to me over this past weekend when I left the house to go to Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live event up in Ft. Collins. A 97 mile trip (that should have taken 1½ hours, sans traffic) ended up taking me 3½ hours. I checked the traffic right before I left, and at least my path from Colorado Springs up to Denver looked clear. As soon as I got onto the freeway, there was a helpful sign announcing, “Crash ahead. Expect delays.” Thanks for the heads-up, but it did me no good since there was no detour available. I was stuck in an unexpected traffic gridlock with no way out. I had to sit and wait.
If you have a smart phone with a good map app, sometimes it can steer you towards a detour. It will ask if you’d like to avoid the traffic jam, and then it will direct you off of the main road, out of the mess, and back on your way. Although it may take you miles out of the way, at least you’re still moving. On my way back home from the Beth Moore event, I encountered two more time-consuming crashes, but in each of these cases, I was able to take a detour and keep moving.
In all my time on the road this weekend, I was thinking: don’t you wish that in life we could avoid certain gridlocks and traffic jams? I’m not talking about real traffic, but about what happens in our lives. What if there was an app that could alert us to what’s coming up and it could give us the option of taking a detour. You know, it could say something like: “Job loss ahead. Proceed with caution. Turn here to avoid.” Or “Serious illness and pain ahead. Exit the freeway to avoid this area.” Or maybe, “Relationship hurt and strife. Take the next exit to maneuver around it.”
The pain or the gridlock in front of you might be a result of your own error, but most often (as in literal traffic), it’s probably not. It’s the result of something or someone else outside your control. Whatever the cause, you’re in a mess. Headed straight for, or in the middle of, something that is painful, is a delay, or a long trek through the wilderness. And there is no way out. You have to just buckle up and endure it until you’re past it all. You may even be straining your eyes towards the horizon in an effort to see the end of the gridlock, but there is nothing but an endless line of brake lights as far as you can see. No way out.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Romans chapter 8. There are so many good verses in there. Verse 27 is very well-known and often quoted. You're likely familiar with it. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (NIV). So if God uses everything to work for good, He must mean that He uses even the traffic jams of life –all the junk that we would just really rather get to detour around.
Why can’t we take a detour in order to avoid all the pain, the waiting, the wilderness, and the trauma? If God is using everything for our good, could it be that we would miss out on some of the good if we were allowed to detour around it? Could it be that particular element of good would be missing from our lives if that piece of the puzzle was missing? This is not to say that God caused the crash or the source of pain or purposely sent you through it, but He definitely says that He uses it for good. But could the good that is gained be worth the pain? Exactly how good could that good be if we have to endure whatever pain we’re walking through in order to receive it?
I want to draw a possible connection between Romans 8:28 and another verse further up the chapter. In verse 18, the apostle Paul says that he considers “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Is there a connection between these two verses (other than the obvious answer of verses 19 through 27)? Could it be that our traffic jam pain is not worth comparing to the good that God will work out for us if we persevere until we arrive at our destination?
When I was sitting in that traffic mess trying to get to Fort Collins, I seriously considered turning around and going home. Just forget it. A conference is not worth driving in traffic for 3½ hours. I had never been to one of these conferences so I didn’t really know what to expect. What if I drove that long for a disappointing experience? But I had a responsibility. I volunteered to serve, so even though I would be very late, I kept going. And you know what? It was worth the drive and the frustration. After I got there, I really forgot about the traffic frustrations.
How much more will we forget about all of our frustrations and pain once we are past our difficulties --whether that be at the end of a particular season of trial or at the end of life when we reach our final destination and see Jesus face to face?
For further reflection on this idea, listen to the song “For the Heartbreak,” sung by the group Downhere. This is a song my husband, Chris, suggested. The lyrics are very fitting, particularly the final phrase which asks, “What if the road to the goal were the easiest road and I never learned what I know?”
To detour or not to detour. That is the question.