When You’ve Gotten Off-Track

He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (p. 70).

I ran into a friend the other day at Starbucks and I asked about this season of his life, where he’s finishing school and also travelling a lot for his job while he juggles the demands of being a husband and father. And he told me how hard it is, how much he misses his family, but how it’s only for a season. And we talked about how sometimes when you decide to start out on a journey, you weigh the costs, but then along the way you second guess yourself and you have to decide again.

“That’ll preach,” he laughed.

“Already writing the blog post in my head,” I returned.

We laughed. But seriously.

This fall I’m doing a half marathon, and I’m aiming for a rather aggressive time (at least aggressive for me), which requires me to run 5 days a week, about 45+ miles most weeks. And even though I know I want to run the race, and even though I enjoy running (most days), this kind of training is tough, especially when it’s blistering hot. And so, I have to decide again to train.

Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that if we just make an initial commitment, everything will change. If we just throw out all the oreos and start the diet, if we just forgive the person who has hurt us so much, if we just say the right vows at the altar, if we just say a particular prayer, then good consequences will follow.

But nothing in life actually works that way. Only in the movies do people ride off into a “happily ever after.” In real life, a new diet will force you to decide almost hourly to keep going. In real life, forgiveness is something that you will have to choose a thousand times (and the deeper the hurt, the more you will have to choose it). In real life, marriage vows are simple compared to the thousands of decisions you will make to either strengthen or weaken your marriage. In real life, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians to “keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning.” In some translations it says, “keep working out your salvation.”

Years ago, our oldest son “prayed a prayer to accept Jesus into his heart.” And that’s good. In my book, any experience of the divine that cause us to respond to the invitation to draw closer is good. But I remember Jennifer and I having a conversation about how this was only the first of many decisions he will make about whether or not he wants to draw close to God. He will have to make that decision over and over and over again.

I’m still making the decision to draw closer to God over and over again.

So, don’t get discouraged if you set out on a journey and you find yourself struggling to keep going forward. This is how all epic journeys go. They always involve Deadly Swamps of Sadness, where you lose your horse. (anyone?) There will always be the Mines of Moria, the Dagobah Cave, and Nazis trying to get to the grail first. But the hero’s journey is one where the hero keeps deciding, keeps recommitting, doesn’t give up, keeps walking.

So, today, what is it that you’re struggling with? Where do you feel discouraged? What did you decide to do that now you’re second-guessing? Yes, maybe you need to adjust your goals, but maybe you also need to consider what (re)commitments you need to make.

Maybe you need to throw the Oreos out again.

Maybe you need to say to your spouse, “I’ve gotten away from some of our promises, let me start over and promise again.”

Maybe you need to say to yourself, “Remember, I’ve forgiven him for what he did to me.”

This deciding again takes courage, and sometimes there are setbacks and tears, but the journey is worth all the effort. And when you make a decision, usually the next decision like it is easier. That’s the strong current that Paulo Coelho is talking about. It’s like we build a sort of muscle memory for hard decisions. 

So today, I hope you find the strength and courage to flex your decision making muscles. And when you do, I hope you feel strong and feel the strong current taking you to your desires.

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  • Ryan Hite

    Even in simple tasks like running a long distance I find that I have to commit to running just 5 minutes at a time… And then convincing/demanding my body go another 5, and another 5…

    In college, my football coach was famous for making us do “one more” rep in the weight room when we thought we had nothing left. It almost always turned into close to 10 reps of all we had.

    The physical examples are obvious to me, but reflecting on the behavioral/emotional/relational ones really hit home.

    • Yep… somedays are exactly like that. When I first started running, I almost had to go driveway to driveway, telephone pole to the next telephone pole!

  • I appreciate how interactive you are in your writing, not shy about asking others for feedback, but also conversation. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to delving into this blogging thing again with others.