Thursday 26 November 2009

Dead-End blues

robin hood's bay dead end sign copy

This is the accursed blue roadsign of doom which scuppers so many seemingly straightforward travel plans. I invariably only catch sight of it after committing to a turn, when its just too late to do anything about it.  Oh the frustration of driving up a cul de sac knowing that I am going to have to go all the way up just to turn around somewhere and come all the way back down to the junction. Growl. Not least when the route seemed to make sense on the map beforehand and the road looks so enticing and pleasurable. Did I turn too soon? Did I misread the map? Is there another route I can take? Only one thing is certain: there is no way of getting through here, so think again.

In the wake of the catastrophic and deadly floods which have swept through Cumbria the people of Workington are living with the particularly harsh realities of having no straightforward way ahead. The simple routines and givens of their daily lives have been cruelly disrupted by the failure of so many bridges. One can only imagine the heartache and sheer frustration of what this means to so many of the local residents, let alone to those who have temporarily lost their homes and who are now displaced and disorientated.

That red line on the blue road sign is a metaphor for a bitter fact of life. Sooner or later we won’t be able to get through either, our way will be blocked too and we will have to negotiate an unfamiliar or unexpected route. Life is like that. Be it illness, unemployment, bereavement, the failure of a precious relationship, or any number of possible external circumstances which suddenly change and impact our lives in unexpected ways, sooner or later we have to come to terms with the dead-end blues. Life is not like driving down a clear highway for mile after blissful mile through a spectacular landscape on a beautifully sunny day , untroubled by junctions, delays, mishaps or worries. Now of course there are times when the present moment is suffused with just such a blissful awareness, and the journey feels smooth and easy. But I can’t get away from the fact that at other times it feels as though it’s a case of navigating a route through an unfamiliar city, with only a hazy sense of how to get from A to B, with no sat-nav and a map that’s fallen just out of reach in the passenger footwell, hemmed in by traffic and with a distinct lack of helpful signage to indicate the way. It’s precisely at times like these that its so easy to turn the wrong way or to discover too late that the dead-end sign of cul de sac doom has just sealed your fate.

So when that is the bitter fact of how  it is for me, I rely on a better fact of life altogether:

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
   in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
   and with my song I give thanks to him.
  (Psalm 28:7)

Notice that this speaks of heart-truth, not head knowledge. This is not about seeking a life free from stress, uncertainty, hurt or bewilderment, a plea for a fantasy life of untroubled blissful travelling. No. This is not about the circumstances which befall us or the events which threaten to overwhelm us or bring us low, rather it is all about how psychologically we  frame and deal with them when they happen, as inevitably such things will. At times like that our trust in God is what enables us to cope, for in and through the helping presence of God’s love our ultimate safety and security – come what may – is assured as heartfelt truth. No circumstance in life can separate us from God who cherishes us, and it is this inner truth of our faith-experience which frames our response to the frustration of the dead-end blues. Please note what I am not saying: I am not implying that God is responsible for the things which befall us and that hidden in amongst the distress and confusion is a higher purpose than we can determine. What I am saying is that life is inherently messy, uncertain and at times deeply painful. God is no more to be held responsible for this truth than the tooth fairy. But in the midst of all of this God is there to be discovered as the love which holds, encourages and carries us, step by step, hour by hour, through the turmoil and confusion which meets us on our journey.

So when I turn the wrong way or can see no way ahead, I can trust in, rely upon and let  my whole being immerse into the one who makes the journey meaningful in the first place. From this place of centring there comes eventually a stilling and quietness which heals and releases. Then, and only then, do I feel confident enough to have another look at the map and find the enthusiasm to journey on. To do otherwise would be to risk turning into the dead end of rash decisions, hasty judgments and lasting regrets.

So travel well, and whatever your journey brings you may you be blessed by the presence of God, your constant travelling companion.


  1. Thank you for your prayer at the end of this entry...JESUS is my traveling companion, within and even without...when i travelled solo, before i was saved, i would experience loneliness or a need to share the wondrous sights of nature (which i did not link to GOD as His creation). But now He is my constant Companion...and you know that it is an indescribable thing, His abiding in believers. How do you explain this wonderful indescribable abiding to a blind non-believer?

  2. Perhaps the truth is that each of us has to experience the road to emmaus for ourselves and so discover Jesus right there alongside and within us in the heart of the things which trouble us.