Monday, December 6, 2021

Though that was shorter

I’ve been working my way through a bout of anxiety that is most certainly stealing my joy, not to mention my ability to be present with anything going on in front of me. It has made it difficult to think for even a second about the season of Advent that is upon us. I’ve wanted some sort of “spot-treatment” medication to get me through this blip. I’ve been a little miffed at God for not removing this physical experience from my body when I request it.

It wasn’t Exodus, the second book in the Old Testament, that I expected would be the thing to lift my spirits today. It’s never been the book I have heard referenced as a trusted option when “looking for a word of encouragement.” It chronicles horrific plagues in the land of Egypt, frustrated Israelites enslaved in captivity, and one very stubborn and power-hungry Pharaoh who is refusing to release them. The story it tells really hasn’t been very much of an upper so far.  

I was caught off guard this morning when I picked up my Bible to complete this week’s assigned reading Exodus chapter 13. Verse 17 reads, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

It’s the last part of that first sentence that got to me, “…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.”

Though that was shorter.

These words could have easily been left out of the text or deemed an extra detail. But the significance their presence brings to the story is so important. It’s a blatant statement that there was a shorter route out there for God’s people to follow. But it wasn’t the one God chose. I am a lover of efficiency, so this hit me hard this morning.

At first, it felt a little harsh. Some might argue feels perhaps even mean, reading how God had his people take the long way home. I was a bit annoyed myself, until I read the sentence that follows in the last part of the verse. I’m not a biblical scholar, but it becomes clear that the motivation for this indirect route was inspired by deep love and tenderness. God knew that if His people faced war, “…they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” The way by the desert road, though longer in distance, will spare them their freedom. Were they to find themselves in the midst of yet another battle with their former captors, they might to tempted to just give in. So, God, in His mercy, takes them a different way, This “long way home” is for their protection and betterment.

“…God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.

I think about all the places in my life where I long for efficiency. There are so many hurts that could have been spared, had I been taken on the more direct route. Certainly, I would be less tired if I was on a shorter path. In a world devastated by heartache, it’s easy to be tempted by the ease of the short cut or the appeal of a quick fix.

As I ponder specific instances in my life, I recognize how much richness and depth would have been lost had I taken on the more direct route that I desired. The people I would have missed. All the sites not seen. The mountain peaks and the deep valleys. The rivers I would have never had to forge and conquer. There can be a treasured richness to the lengthy journey, even if it takes more time.  

Whether it’s anxiety we want to get through faster, or some other form of personal health issue that we want to be done with. Whether it’s COVID we want to end. Or increased intimacy we desire in our marriage. Whether it’s clarity of purpose or calling we are looking for. There could be a shorter way. But efficiency often comes with a cost. The challenge I’m bumping up against today is do we trust God enough to lead us through the process? Even if we must take the long way?

Can we rest in the knowing that His path for us, full of unexpected and sometimes arduous curves and bends, is rooted in deep tenderness and great love? Sometimes, in that love, we might find ourselves doing the hard work and sitting in messy places for longer than we would prefer. We don’t need a shorter path. We need to grow our trust.

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