The Long and Winding Road


Have you ever noticed that God isn’t a fan of straight lines in nature? Most objects in creation are irregular, curved, and winding. From plants to planets, rattlesnakes to rivers, grass to galaxies our world is “imperfect” geometrically speaking. There are patterns, to be sure, but things both alive and inanimate are wavy and often grow in unpredictable directions.

My wife commented to me one time when we were in an airplane that rivers wind around in the most interesting ways—something easily seen at 30,000 feet. And that image was causing her to reflect that when she was a young girl and a new Christian, she thought her life would be like a highway—a straight and narrow road. Yet life for her had taken so many unexpected turns. She wondered aloud to me if she even understood all those verses that talk about God making our way smooth or straight. She was coming to the realization life is more like a river than a road.

In truth, God’s version of “straight” is a moral description, not a spacial one. A straight road for God is not primarily one that has no turns, but one that has no traps. Winding paths are commonplace for anyone who follows God. Psalm 23 says we must sometimes walk through “the valley of the shadow of death.” I’ve never heard anyone describe that dark road as “straight.” One foot in front of the other, yes. But bends and turns are the way of a journey with God.

A man in his 30’s described to me how he was agonizing over wanting to follow God in a big way. He wanted to fulfill his life mission—a worthy aspiration, to be sure. But what path to choose? He couldn’t see that distant road. It certainly wasn’t straight ahead. So he asked my advice: how does he follow a path he cannot see? I let him know that although I might not be the best example, I’ve never seen very far up ahead of what’s coming—or what I’m to do “with my life”. To live my mission, I pretty much just look at what’s next. Most of my choices in life are quite mundane. What I see is a few flat rocks for a foothold in front of me—simple options, not some grand highway.

So I focus on what to do with today—not my life. The best advice I could give? Look for what could be the next stepping stone in front of you—don’t try to see an idealized path somewhere over the hill. You cannot walk a distant road. You cannot be farther ahead of where you are now. You can only take a next step. And then, one after that.

I think my wife was right: there is no long and clearly-marked path visible for us. Every day, our options are like a field of dots. You can only see that there was a pattern when you look back after you’ve connected them. And even then, you won’t look back on a straight line. It will probably look more like a river.


– By Judson Poling

Judson met Greg Huston (The Crucible Project’s founder) in 2002 and staffed his first initial weekend the following spring. Judson is a founding board member of The Crucible Project and co-developer of The Crucible Project’s four second-level weekends. He also served on staff of Willow Creek Community Church for 29 years. Judson is now a best-selling author and President of Cambia Resources, LLC, doing consulting, coaching and freelance writing.


Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond (via Creative Commons)