“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”Isaiah 42:16 NIV
I totally get what Isaiah meant about unfamiliar paths.
In my younger, more foolish days, I loved to tell what I dubbed a “Helen Keller” joke. Here it is:
Q: How did Helen Keller’s parents punish her?
A: By rearranging the furniture.
I thought it was funny. My mother thought it was cruel. Well, yes, but you have to have a vision issue to fully appreciate the humor. I thought it was funny because it is so so true.
Acquaintances often commented that I functioned quite well as a legally blind person. They were shocked when I told them just how bad my vision was. I did do fine—as long as I was in familiar settings. If I got dumped into the unfamiliar or if my environment changed, obscuring what I already struggled to see, I was suddenly plunged into helplessness. That meant I had to ask for help. And people were surprised because they thought I was so self-sufficient.
(Was legally blind? Read my story here of how I gained new eyesight in midlife.)
I coped by memorizing my environment like a map. I depended on certain things always being in the same place. The salt is in the upper cupboard to the right of the stove, bottom shelf, left hand side. My hand reaches for it without my brain or my eyes needing to engage. The worst kindness would be to clean my house and put my clutter away for me. Don’t touch a thing! I need to remember where things are.
Don’t rearrange the furniture.
Since my vision is still far from normal, I do that with grocery stores too. Unable to read aisle signs, I depend on going to one grocery store and everything staying the same. Frozen veggies on the east end of the store, first aisle of the frozen section before you hit dairy. Shredded cheese in the back right corner. What marketing advice did my local Hyvee store management read that compelled them to move the veggies to the next aisle at the opposite end? Or the shredded cheese to a middle short aisle instead of along the back wall? Did I do something bad?
They rearranged the furniture. And I was lost. And frustrated.
All of us get comfortable with predictability.
- We buy certain items at the store and make the same meals.
- We travel familiar paths to work, grocery stores or our early morning power walk.
- Church service order becomes a comfortable expectation.
- We get used to certain friends, whether or not those friends are good for us.
It’s convenient and reliable. We don’t have to tax our brain, saving energy for more important things. Or so we say.
And then life rearranges the furniture and pushes us on to unfamiliar paths.
- National policy changes as quickly as new political administrations.
- A world pandemic wipes out the way we’ve always done church, education, or care for the elderly.
- The leaving of a spouse by death, divorce, or deployment shoves life responsibilities on your shoulders and you have to do a lot of little things you’ve never done before.
- A move to a new location means you have to find new friends, hairdresser, medical clinic, and, gasp, a new grocery store. Everything turns topsy turvy for at least six months.
- Retirement rearranges the finances, time and relationship with your spouse.
Life took a hard left down an unfamiliar path. And you feel frustrated. Punished. Confused. Lost.
And then God calls you and me to live a life of righteousness and holiness.
- Forgive as He has forgiven.
- Extend mercy instead of vengeance.
- Speak kindly instead of with irritation.
- Go places and rub shoulders with people who embrace unfamiliar customs.
Do you feel out of your element along this path called Christianity? A little frustrated? Afraid you’ll make a mess of things and make a fool of yourself?
Maybe I don’t get that verse as well as I think I do.
The point of Isaiah 42:16 is that even if the path is unknown to me, it is not unknown to God. I don’t have to feel as panicked about unfamiliarity as I do,
How does God lead us?
- He will shine the light of his understanding on our darkened path.
- He will smooth the way.
- He won’t ever leave us or forsake us.
Do you realize what this means for you? If you don’t know where you are or you are anxious about where you are headed next, you can ask for God’s help. You can breathe deep because He’s got this. You’re not going to fall flat on your face and bloody your emotional nose because He has a firm grip on your arm and He will not let you go splat.
“Can I really ask for His help any time I don’t know where I’m going?”
It sounds rather mundane and nitpicky to ask God where the frozen veggies are. But why not? God loves you and me and he’s got more vested interest in us than any store clerk could. Try it. Ask and see how he leads you the next time you are thrown into the unfamiliar. (He might connect you with some nice young man who is stocking shelves and who would gladly lead you to the new location for whatever you are looking for.)
And if God cares about frozen veggies and shredded cheese, he also cares about the unfamiliar paths of mercy, forgiveness, and right choices. He cares about how your spiritual environment has changed after the latest storm has redefined your borders of comfort and convenience. He wants to smooth the path toward new friendships and give you wisdom of how to handle your most recent strange situation.
- “Lord, help me find my way.”
- “Please stay with me.”
- “Teach me what I need to do to get through this.”
- “Provide me what I need.”
Watch what God does. He’ll do it. New friends, New wisdom. New strength you didn’t know was possible. New strategies that help you travel unfamiliar but exciting new paths.
He will stay with you so you can enjoy the journey together.
What new challenges do you face? Put the panic aside and trust God to lead you through the obstacles and along the unfamiliar paths. Tell the Lord you are glad He is staying with you.