I’m a reasonably smart person. College took me a year longer than most people, but I finally graduated with a three-point-something.
However, when it comes to following directions, I’m definitely not smarter than a fifth grader. I get lost easily and often. My wife would attest to the fact that I’ve pretty much mastered the “art of lostness.” It is so bad that when Sandra sends me on an errand, she carries her phone around the house with her, because she knows I’m going to call. This is in spite of the fact that she sends me out with a map with the route highlighted in yellow, along with a complete set of written directions. My intentions are good. I’m just lousy with directions. And she knows it. The kids know it. Heck, everybody who knows me knows it. I mean well. But my good intentions don’t really make any difference. I still get turned around.
The upside to all of this is that I can speak as an authority on the art of getting and being lost. There are three things you should know about those of us who are directionally challenged. First, we don’t get lost on purpose. Nobody does that. In fact, just the opposite is true. Since we know we are likely to get lost, we work hard at paying attention and following directions. But we just don’t do well in unfamiliar territory.
The second thing I’ve learned from getting lost is that I never know exactly when it happens. I never know when I’ve crossed that line between I know exactly where I am and I have no idea where I am. I never know the precise moment in which I’ve made an incorrect turn or taken a wrong route. There is never a moment when a light goes off in my brain and I think, ‘Gee, I just got lost. If I back up a hundred feet, I’ll be un-lost.’ Being lost is something that dawns on me. Usually after I’ve been lost for…well, I don’t know how long I’m lost before I realize I’m lost. Which I guess is the point I’m trying to make.
There’s a third thing about getting lost. The road I’m on always determines where I end up. Pretty insightful, eh? It really doesn’t matter where I intended to be; the path I take determines my ultimate destination. Plans, intentions, spousal expectations…none of that counts. I always end up where the road I’ve chosen takes me. And that, as you know by now, is the theme of this book.
From Where I Sit
My observation (and experience, for that matter) indicates that humans have a propensity for choosing paths that do not lead in the direction they want to go. For much of our decision-making, we lean hard into our intentions and pay very little attention to the direction of the path we’ve chosen. I see it all the time. Even with very smart people.
It breaks my heart how many people I speak with who don’t connect the dots between the choices they make and the outcomes they experience. They’ve come to believe the popular notion that as long as their intentions are good, as long as their hearts are in the right place (whatever that means), as long as they do their best and try their hardest, it doesn’t matter which path they take. They believe somehow they will end up in a good place.
But life doesn’t work that way.
There is an amazing piece of literature tucked away in the book of Proverbs that illustrates this disconnect better than anything else I know of. In Proverbs 7, Solomon described an encounter that he witnessed from the vantage point of his upstairs window. Because he was physically removed from what he saw, he could not hear what the characters were saying to each other. But he provided us with their conversation as he imagined it. It’s also possible that this account is a parable based upon his personal experience. Whether autobiographical or an observation, his story provides extraordinary insight into our tendency to disconnect direction from destination.
At the window of my house, I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. (Prov. 7:6-7)
Solomon looked out his window and saw a kid. We don’t know how old this kid was, but from what we learn later, we know he was at least north of puberty. Solomon described this kid as “simple” and “lacking judgment.” We may be tempted to ask, “How did he know?” And the answer is: all youths lack judgment. They are all “simple” or nadve. All youths lack judgment, because judgment requires time and experience. Young people haven’t lived long enough to acquire the experience that can produce good judgment. I say can because experience doesn’t always lead to good judgment. But experience is certainly critical to good judgment.
Shaunti Feldhahn, in her fascinating book For Parents Only, cites a study claiming that the frontal lobe of the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-twenties. The frontal lobe is where our reasoning skills reside. This explains why adolescents often engage in high-risk activities—they don’t make the connection between their choices and the potential consequences. The point is that all youths lack the judgment that can come from age and experience. This seemingly insignificant detail is actually important to the narrative, as you are about to discover.
He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. (vv. 8-9)
Now, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to anticipate where this story is heading, do you? A young guy cruising the streets at sunset, heading in the direction of a specific woman’s home. As we will see in a second, he knew who this woman was, and he knew she was married. And apparently he knew that her husband was out of town and that she would be prowling around the street corner, looking for…well, just looking. That alone should have stopped him in his tracks. But it didn’t. In fact, that was the very reason he was headed in her direction.
If we were able to get inside this kid’s head and tap into the soundtrack he had chosen for this particular evening’s activities, we might have heard “Party Like a Rock Star” or, if he was a fan of classic rock, perhaps “Born to Be Wild.” Either way, he was confident that this was going to be a night to remember—and perhaps one to brag to his friends about the next day during PE.
Meanwhile, back at the window, Solomon was watching this young man, and there was a soundtrack playing in his head as well: the music from Jaws. Why? Because there was a marked contrast between what this kid was expecting to experience and what Solomon knew was in his future. Why? Because the older, wiser king understood from experience where this path would lead. The adolescent was preoccupied with what he believed would be an exciting event—a night of passion. A night disconnected from every other event in his life. But Solomon knew better. This night was not an isolated event disconnected from all the other events in this young man’s life. This night was a step down a path. A path, like all paths, that leads somewhere. This particular path had a predictable destination. But you don’t need to be the wisest man in the world to know that. You could predict the outcome of this encounter with nothing to draw on but your own experience or the experience of someone you know. Funny how that works. What’s so obvious to those watching often escapes us.
The story continues:
Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) (vv. 10-12)
Solomon knew a thing or two about women. He made his share of poor choices in this arena. He knew from expertise that this woman was toxic. And having been there himself, he also understood why this young man couldn’t see it.
She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: “I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and I have found you!” (vv. 13-15)
This section requires a bit of explanation. When this woman said she had fellowship offerings at home, she was essentially saying, “Look, I’m not a hooker. I have plenty of money at home. I’m not after your money—I want you!” She was also implying that she had been to the temple and had everything squared away with God. Having already taken her sin-bucket and dumped it out at the altar, she was ready to fill it up again…with him!
As extreme as that sounds, her version of religion is not too far removed from our approach.
If you’re like some of my Catholic friends, you go to confession, dump out all of your sin in a confessional booth, get absolved, and then the next week you feel free to pick up where you left off. We Protestants do the same thing, but with one difference: we skip the confessional booth. Instead, we go right to the source. We pray something along the lines of, “Dear heavenly Father, please forgive me of all my sins.” We’re taught that at that point, he takes out his big eraser and cleans our sin slates. Like the woman in the story, we are quick to ask for forgiveness but slow to actually repent and walk away from our sin. Granted, that whole approach is absurd when you think about it. And it is certainly an insult to God, but it works for us. We get both the relief that comes with forgiveness and the thrill that comes from sin.
Of course, this young man wasn’t thinking about the absurdity of her religious system. He was thinking, ‘If my friends could see me now.’ At that point, he pumped up the volume of his soundtrack to a ten and pinched himself to be sure this wasn’t a dream. Even if Solomon was to call down from the window and warn him, the kid wouldn’t have heard him over the seductive words he heard next:
“I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my body with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!” (vv. 16-18)
And just in case he was wondering, she added:
“My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.” (vv. 19-20)
Well, that pretty much clinched it right there. Not only did he not have to worry about her husband catching them but he could hang around for breakfast. Watch a little TV. Heck, he could spend the entire weekend. This just kept getting better. From his perspective, that is. But Solomon saw this situation in an entirely different light. Listen to his take.
With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once, he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter. (vv. 21-22)
What? An ox heading where? Wait a minute, Solomon. Don’t you mean “like a celebrity into a club?” An ox to the slaughter? It certainly doesn’t look that way to the casual observer. And it certainly didn’t look that way to our young friend. But Solomon was not finished with his creative use of language. He had two more animal analogies for emphasis.
… like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. (vv. 22-23)
In case you didn’t get the ox to the slaughter, how ’bout a deer stepping into a noose, with a bloodied arrow hanging from its bowels? Still don’t get the picture? How about this: this kid was like a clueless bird caught in a snare. Solomon’s point, as if he hadn’t made it abundantly clear, was that this young man was throwing away his future. Possibly his life. Of course, were the young man able to read Solomon’s mind, he would have shouted back, “You’re sounding a lot like my dad! Besides, what does an old man know about love and passion anyway? This isn’t just a date. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. I’m not an ox, a deer, or a bird. Mind your own business.”
At this point in Solomon’s narrative, he turned a corner and addressed his broader audience. These next words are directed to you and me.
Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. (vv. 24-25)
There’s our word. Paths. This was a path, not an event. Pay attention to this next observation:
Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. (v. 26)
Many. Solomon debunked the notion that there was anything unique about what this kid was experiencing. It may have been unique for him. But this experience represents a well-worn path: a path that leads to death in spite of what the nadve kid may have wanted to argue. If Solomon could have called a time-out in the story and gotten this kid’s undivided attention, he might have said something along the lines of, “Listen, buddy. I hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing unique or special or rare about this. You may have never ‘felt this way before,’ but a lot of other people have. And if they were here to tell you their stories, you would think twice. You’re part of a crowd. A herd. A flock. There is nothing new here. And the outcome is all too predictable. She’s done more than capture your imagination. She’s writing a script for your future. You are a dead man walking!”
Driving home the point, Solomon added:
Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death. (v. 27)
A highway? Yep. A four-lane interstate with an HOV lane. Again, there’s nothing new about this. Nothing unique. Just another young man who has chosen a path that will take him precisely to where he doesn’t want or plan to be. There was a disconnect. The disconnect in Solomon’s scenario is easy to see, at least for us. A young man who wanted his life to be relationally richer chose a path that would ultimately undermine his relationships. A young man who yearned for something good chose a path that led to something not good. A youth striving to prove his independence chose a well-worn path that had the potential to strip him of his independence. There was a disconnect. Solomon saw it from his window. I’ve seen similar disconnects from my imaginary window as well. And so have you.
We all have propensity for choosing paths that do not lead in the direction we want to go. In a later chapter, I will give you my take on what causes this apparent lapse in reason. But for now I want to focus on how this dynamic plays itself out in our world. Perhaps in your world. For example:
A single woman says, “I want to meet and one day marry a great Christian guy who’s really got his act together”…but then she dates whoever asks her out, as long as he’s cute.
A single guy says, “I want a great sex life once I’m married”…but he “practices” with every girl he dates along the way.
A married woman says, “I want to have a great relationship with my husband”…but she makes the children a priority over him.
A husband says, “I want my kids to respect me as they grow up”…and then he openly flirts with other women in the neighborhood.
A young Christian says, “I want to develop a deep and lasting intimacy with God”…so he gets up every morning early and reads his newspaper.
A man says, “I want to grow old and invest the latter years of my life in my grandchildren”…but then he neglects his health.
A couple says, “We’d like our children to develop a personal relationship with God and choose friends who have done the same”…but then they skip church every weekend and head to the lake.
Newlyweds determine to be financially secure by the time they reach their parents’ age…then adopt a lifestyle sustained by debt and leverage assets.
A high school freshman intends to graduate with a GPA that will afford him options as he selects a college…but neglects his studies.
Obviously the list could go on and on. And the people my list represents have legitimate goals and oftentimes every good intention of reaching them. But like the nadve young man in Solomon’s story, the paths they choose eventually bring them to a destination that is entirely different from the one they intended. And this isn’t rocket science. We shouldn’t need someone to connect these dots for us. If your goal is to drop two dress sizes, you don’t eat lunch at a donut shop. If you desire to remain faithful to your spouse, you don’t linger in an online chat room with members of the opposite sex. Those aren’t pastimes. Those are pathways. They lead somewhere.
As I have said throughout our time together, it is much easier to see these dynamics at work in other people than it is in ourselves. As you read through my list a few paragraphs back, no doubt specific faces and names came to mind. You might have even thought, So-and-so needs to read this. And you may be right. But before you start putting initials beside specific paragraphs in this book, perhaps you should pause and do a bit of self-examination:
Are there disconnects in your life?
Are there discrepancies between what you desire in your heart and what you are doing with your life?
Is there alignment between your intentions and your direction?
If you’ve ever gotten lost while driving (and who hasn’t?), you know that if you backtrack far enough, you can usually get your bearings and be on your way. Worst case, you’ve wasted a few minutes or hours. But when you get lost in life, you can’t backtrack. When you get lost in life, you don’t waste minutes or hours. You can waste an entire season of your life. Choosing the wrong path in life will cost you precious years. Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to wake up in his fifties and wish he had taken a different path in his thirties. Nobody wants to arrive at the end of a marriage and wish she had taken a different path during her dating years. Think about it. You only get to be twenty once. You get one senior year. You get one first marriage. The path we choose at those critical junctions doesn’t just determine our destination the following year, but for the following season of life.
The principle of the path is operating in your life every minute of every day. You are currently on a financial path of some kind. You are on a relational path. You are continuing down a moral and ethical path. And each of these paths has a destination. My hope is that by becoming aware of this powerful principle, you will have the wisdom to know which path to choose and the courage to stay the course.