Secrets of the Christian Life: How to Live GPS Free

It is April, 2012. My wife and I are suffering from a severe case of EWFS (Extended-Winter Fatigue Syndrome). Now, some of you reading this likely think of April as early spring, but where we live on the Canadian prairies, April is the sixth (and if we’re lucky, final) month of winter. We decide that we must escape, so we board a flight to Arizona.

Upon arrival, we head to the car rental company. Naturally, the very helpful attendant offers us a multitude of add-ons. The thing is, we’re pretty frugal (cheap?), generally unwilling to spend money on anything we don’t need.

“Would you like the extra insurance?”

“No, we’re good.”

“I see you requested an economy car. How about an upgrade?”

“No thanks.”

“We have a Mustang convertible . . . ”

“NO!” (My wife, to me.)

“Do you need an engine in your car?”

“No, we’ll push it.”

“How about a GPS unit?”

Pause. We exchange glances, each of us silently recalling our most recent trip, where we attempted to navigate another unfamiliar landscape, sans tecno-gadget. My wife served as navigator, armed only with a map. (Made of paper!) It was probably the closest we have ever come to a divorce.

“Um . . .  how much?” I enquire.

“Doesn’t matter,” my wife interjects tersely.

Her tone cements my decision. “Yes! GPS!”

Having never been to Arizona, the little unit is put to work immediately. At first it is all fun and games. My wife digs into the instructions and we get it set up, in the process trying out a few basic functions. We are amused by the machine’s attempt at a human sounding voice. We name her Jane. We struggle to input our destination. We laugh, we cry. Within an hour we are ready to commence our 12 minute drive to the hotel.

We are on the freeway, and Jane delivers her first set of directions. What I notice immediately is that I do not like her tone. When I mention this, my wife suggests that it might simply be that I do not like being told what to do. I laugh. Ha, ha! Then, in an offhand way, I remark that there is something familiar to me about this demanding female voice. Now it is my spouse’s turn to laugh. Ha, ha! What fun we are having!

The frivolity is interrupted by an urgent command. “Merge right in 100 yards.”

As my heart rate rises, I point out (to the inanimate object) that I am in the far left lane, and that there is considerable traffic, and that—

“Merge right in 50 yards.” The voice is calm, but insistent.

For some reason, I feel compelled to obey. I shoulder check. Only 15 vehicles between me and my objective. “I can do this,” I tell myself.

“What!” My wife has clearly been eavesdropping. “No!”

Then the GPS. “Merge right.” Is it just me, or is there a little bit of an edge to her voice now?

“Do. Not.” My wife. Definitely some edge.

I hesitate. I am sweating profusely.

“Merge right immediately.” It sounds like a threat. But it would take a miracle to execute a successful merge now. Naturally, I consider it.

And then it passes; or rather I pass it; within seconds the off-ramp is a distant reflection in the rearview mirror. My wife breathes out her relief at the same moment that I feel a wave of shame at my failure. I endeavour to speak, to somehow justify this most recent navigational debacle, and I am immediately surprised by the words that I hear as I open my mouth.

“Recalculating.” Jane has spoken for me. She is in charge now. She wants us to know that even though I have failed, she is intelligent enough that, given a few moments to think, she will come up with a foolproof plan (I don’t like the insinuation) to save the day. Before I can object, she says, “In 100 yards, make a U-turn.”

Okay. A solution. This is good. I am surprised that there is a place to execute such a maneuver on an Arizona interstate, but I am relieved. I begin to look for a sign for the U-turn zone.

“Make a U-turn in 50 yards.”

I slow the vehicle. Other people behind me in the fast lane seem perturbed, but I can only assume that it is because they do not have a GPS. Their blaring horns make it difficult to concentrate, as does my wife’s “advice”. Perhaps this is why I cannot not see the sign.

“Make a U-turn” says the little electronic dictator. “Now!”

I question whether Arizona law would accommodate high speed U-turns across medians on eight-lane highways, but then recall that they do allow people to carry guns around here, so . . .  

My thoughts are interrupted. “Recalculating.” Her voice does not indicate anger. Just disappointment. Grave disappointment.

This continued for most of the rest of the trip. After we’d been there four or five days, we pretty much knew our way around, and were more than happy to unplug the little tyrant. Truth be told, had we still needed directions I think we would have preferred to take our chances with a gigantic paper map again.

I think I used to view God as if He was just some big GPS in the sky. I would tell Him where I wanted to go (prayer), and then it was His job to tell me how to get there. Eventually, I matured and realized that my view of prayer was a little skewed (Jesus and that whole your-will-be-done thing!). So then He got the added privilege (how generous of me!) of being the one to decide where I was to go. Of course I had some conditions: He would need to paint a clear picture of the destination, give detailed directions every step of the way, and ensure a prompt arrival at a previously agreed-upon date and time.

Shock of shocks, on more than one occasion I found myself recalculating when He seemingly failed to deliver. After too many years of wrestling with anger, frustration and disappointment, I eventually figured out what God knew all along: I’m better off without a GPS. That’s why He isn’t one, and doesn’t give us one.

In the Bible the story is told of a great journey that has been taking place for millennia, and that will continue for who knows how long (forever?). Moreover, you and I are invited to join in. The story is as much about what is happening right now as it is about what will eventually happen one day—the final destination. There are clear guidelines about the ultimate purpose, as well as what is expected of those who accept the invitation to participate (rules of the road, if you will). But this odyssey is so vast, its scope so far-reaching, that there is ample room for diverse paths along the route. In fact, the members of this expedition each have their unique role to play, having been equipped in advance for the journey (Ephesians 2:10).

This is not to say that we are left to trek alone. Beyond the direction the story itself provides, and the legacy of those who traveled before us, there is Jesus. He came here and joined the journey in person to be the Way. Not to simply to tell us the way, or even show us the way, but to embody the Way. To be known. This so that we might be reconnected to our Creator, and be made whole. And beyond that, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, some might think. The Holy Spirit; finally, the GPS!

I don’t think so. For the Holy Spirit does not come along and perch Himself on the dashboard of our life in order to say, “Merge right! Merge right now!” That sounds more like an autocrat than an advocate.

You and I, miraculously, were made in the very image of God, intended to participate fully in the grand adventure He designed. We were tragically maimed by the fall and lost our way, forced by our own folly to limp along in a mess of our own making. But now, through Christ, we are being restored day by day with the help of the ever-present Holy Spirit. We don’t need someone to say, “Turn left here. Go right there.” We were made for this journey, fully equipped as ones uniquely crafted to flourish as we explore the width and breadth of the landscape God laid before us. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Way, we’ll be just fine. Constantly asking, “What now? What now?” just shows a lack of faith in the work He has already accomplished, and continues to accomplish, in us.

These past six months have served as an excellent reminder of all of this for me. For over thirty years, my life was reasonably predictable, at least career wise. Teaching, once you are established, is a fairly secure profession. Every day for thirty-one years, I generally knew when to get up in the morning, where I would go to work and, for the most part, what I would do when I got there (although my students did their best to keep me on my toes). As each school year ended, I had a pretty good idea of where the next one would begin, and what my life would look like once there.

But since retirement, I have embarked on a very new adventure. I’m calling myself a writer now. (It still sounds weird when I say it aloud.) I have a new boss (me), and frankly, the guy seems to have very little clue as to what he’s doing!  It’s all new territory; I figure out each step as I go (sometimes I want God to tell me where to turn, but He doesn’t), and the end-game is very unclear (no ETA on arrival at destination . . .  in fact, I’m far from sure of what the destination is).

But here’s the thing: I’m having a blast! I’m not saying that I haven’t had my moments, but for the most part, the uncertainty of it all has been part of the fun. I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m doing something that I’ve long wanted to do. And I think what God has been showing me in all of this is that He is the One who has brought me this far on the journey, that he’s set me up for success, and that He’ll be with me every step of the way. What more could I ask for?

Definitely not a GPS.