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Confused About the Direction of Your Life? This Might Help

Hand holding a compass
Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

The plan seemed clear. The path seemed straight. But diversion after diversion beset you. Now you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and will ever reach your dreamed-of destination. You’re in such a different place to where you thought you’d be by now.

When the producers of BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment gave me the sentence ‘I used to think that…’ as a topic to speak on, my mind was taken back to the beliefs I held as a youth. Many had been superseded over the years, but one remained. If you share this belief too (and many do), dealing with it can help you see life’s diversions differently. 

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I Used to Think That…

Boy checking a map

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When I was young I used to think the end of the earth lay just over the hill near my home. When I got old enough to ride my bike there I found a strawberry patch instead. (Earth’s edge was obviously in the next suburb.) I used to think you could fix flesh wounds with superglue. (Why doctors weren’t using this amazing stuff in operations was beyond me.) I used to think Knight Rider was cool, mushy peas were evil, and Smokey and the Bandit was a film of such impeccable quality it warranted repeat viewing. (I watched it every Saturday for a year.)

For a while I thought ghosts might be real, thanks to a scary episode of Mork and Mindy in which Mork got trapped in a haunted house (Dad had to guard my bedroom door each night for months afterwards). I also thought God got hungry. One day I tried sending him a snack in a basket tied to a balloon. I didn’t know about helium back then so my kindness soon floated back to earth.

I used to think I’d become a fireman, or a graphic designer, or, later, a nightclub DJ. Whichever path I chose, however, I envisioned my life progressing in a fairly straight line. There would be up-hill climbs and road blocks, sure. But it would be an otherwise direct drive between my starting point and my destination.

I have since, of course, become wise. The superglue goes in the toolbox my lad, not the medicine cabinet. And Smokey and the Bandit’s cinematic qualities have been, let’s say, reassessed. But my belief about life being a proverbial freeway has persisted.

Man on hiking path outdoorsPhoto by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I did become a DJ for a time—until a spiritual crisis led to a change of plans. I was a youth worker for a while—until I burnt out from overwork. An unexpected move into radio led to a dream job in Sydney—which I then left to move to the United Kingdom. I now write books and speak at conferences. My path has been anything but direct—and hard to reconcile with my straight-line thinking. At times I’ve wondered if I’ve taken a wrong turn and missed my true destination.

A couple of years ago I was hiking along Northumberland’s coast. At one stage my path led through a caravan park—dozens of square white cabins, all clean lines and right angles, that were in complete contrast to the contours of the coastline. That’s when it hit me: there are no straight lines in nature—it’s all bend and kink and curve. And maybe it’s the same with our lives. There are few straight roads and more winding, bramble-lined tracks. And what we thought were detours were important destinations in themselves.

I’ve been slow to catch up on this one, but it’s time I did. Life isn’t a straight line but a squiggle, less a freeway ride and more a forest walk. And all the scrapes, scratches and wonder of it suggest to me the best word for it is… pilgrimage.

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  • Alison Laird

    Great read Sheridan, I can relate; and when compared to nature, the straight lined and white caravan park has a eeire dystopian feel to it. Ultimately it’s not the utopia we think it’s going to be, I guess.

  • Kevin Hooper

    We are pilgrims, and the Lord is with us on our journey! At times He has carried us, and He will never leave us nor forsake us! As we hold His hand, and trek through His beautiful creation, even though we climb uphill sometimes, it’s preferred to forced marching in straight lines!

    • Yes and amen – even though the path can feel obscure sometimes, and even for a long season.

  • Sumie Reddy

    Thank you for the encouraging article. I have also struggled with and tried to find that elusive “calling” or “destiny” and have ended up putting pressure on myself in this search. It is most definitely a journey that’s one step at a time. Learning from God as we walk with Him. Receiving His love, and leading daily. Surrendering and trusting Him, every step of the way. Avoiding making a “to do list” and rather spending time with Him, that refreshes us, daily. Resting in Him has been my struggle. It also comes with being a “doer” and seeing passivity as the enemy. Striking a balance is key and allowing God to help you do that, is most crucial! Thanks again, this really encouraged me! Love your writing!

    • Thanks Sumie. That ballance between ambition and contentment is one I too have wrested with. I think the key is having a rhythm to life that incorporates both, not seeing them as enemies of each other.

  • Paul Hudson

    Hi. Thanks for this, very interesting and relevant for me at the moment. A few people have spoken to me in the past about seeing life as a journey and pilgrimage, although can be hard when you think you should be doing something else and want to get on, or not sure at all about other things. It’s something I struggle with (often because of looking at others who seem to know where they are going) so need to be reminded of this regularly.

    On a side note superglue may possibly be a medical invention. In the film Dog Soldiers a Sgt asks one of his men to use it after he got slashed by a werewolf, saying that there was reason it stuck fingers together and that it was invented during the Vietnam War. Never checked it out and recognise that it isn’t the best reference source, but thought it sounded plausible.

    • So my childhood hunch about Superglue was right! I can’t believe the doctor’s laughed at me. Well, that’ll show ’em :).

      Your point about comparison is an important one. I can trace my little burnout from youth work (and another one before it) to this – looking at others I saw as successful and wondering why I wasn’t measuring up. What a deadly thing this can be. Each of us is given a certain amount of gifts, opportunities and energy. Success is using them all diligently to the best of *our* ability – not their’s.

  • Anne Le Tissier

    A timely word, thank you. Being a hiker myself, this has spoken deeply into some unsettled feelings I’ve been burdened with recently. So glad you shared this fresh perspective, which for me, is a reminder to keep on taking just one day at a time, and giving my all to whatever that day holds… with a few goals to keep me moving forward, rather than forever being sidetracked, but without letting those goals feel oppressive when they fail to be fulfilled.

    • “Taking just one day at a time… giving my all to whatever that day holds… with a few goals to keep me moving forward… but without letting those goals feel oppressive…” There it is, Anne.

  • hodge publishing

    Yes … a journey! And hardly any of it is how the child/teenager/student us thought it would be. Including, that societal change has given those of us who now have adult children a whole world of new ways of doing things … deciding how to accept (or not) the ways they chose to run their lives, relationships, and work … always best to keep learning, and looking again at what our Lord actually says (and how he viewed ‘traditions’)!

    • That’s an important thing to note: the sheer amount of choices we face now, each of them a potential turn on the path.

  • Alex Rigby

    Sheridan I find your writings insightful and helpful yep there’s a but coming 🙂 I struggle as I am one who didn’t come out the other side, didn’t develop new goals etc and I’m sure I’m not the only one I found your presentation at Mitcham Australia inspiring but drove away in tears as there has been no ‘England’ or ‘Oxford’ for me and am trying to make peace with what is a very traumatic life and focus on what God would have me do. Just a comment there are some who don’t make it.

    • The wilderness can be a long, hard journey Alex. I’m so sorry to hear you’re enduring what sounds like a horrible one. My prayer for you today is that you’ll find the right support you need at this moment to take another step, then another. Know that just be hanging in there you’re doing God’s will.

  • David Snell