Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
This summer, I had the chance to run repeats on an 1800 year-old Roman road. As I trudged up and down this path, it reframed the way I understand this passage in Proverbs.
Prior to that experience, I had thought the Proverbs passage meant that if I trusted in the Lord, He would show me the shortcuts to life, making life easier. I figured “straight paths” were a good thing. Then…I went out for the run on this Roman road.
As I pushed up the 19% grades, I realized the Romans lacked dynamite to move boulders. They did not have diggers to cut into the side of a ridge. Their objective was to build a path from a ridge to a valley in order to bring grain to a mill. Therefore, the roads were cut as straight descents into the valley, which meant that their return trips were arduous climbs out of the valley.
The reason there are curves in a road is because the engineers are avoiding obstacles. Straight roads take the obstacles head on. So, when I lean not on my own understanding but trust in the Lord it does not mean he is going to take me down an easier path. In fact, the path may often be more arduous and require more endurance and effort than expected. It also forces you to refocus your attention.
While running hills, the objective is to move your gaze from a few feet in front of you towards the higher goal. If you fix your gaze just a few feet in front, you expend a lot of unnecessary energy running into the hill, but by shortening your stride and setting your gaze further up, you are able to pull yourself up the hill and more efficiently over the obstacle.
Therefore, when the paths are straight they do not avoid obstacles; rather God leads us through them in order to increase our dependency upon Him. He wants us to move our gaze away from our feet and set them upon loftier things. In doing so, we set our hope upon Him and not upon our struggling efforts.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Then, over time something interesting occurs. As we continue to rely upon Him over and over again the trails of our lives become more and more straight.
Physicist Richard Feynman noticed this while studying the ants infesting his home. He traced their paths along the side of his bathtub. He placed a sugar cube at the end of the tub and waited for hours until one ant found the treat. Then as the ant returned home, Feynman traced its squiggly meandering that was “full of errors.” The second ant’s trail, however, became slightly more direct…and overtime, ten ants repeated this trek and with each effort the line became straighter and straighter.*
So what do straight paths offer? They provide us an opportunity for intense focus on what is ahead. Without blind curves or false summits, straight paths allow us to dial in on the goal and push forward. They may demand more effort, but overtime they also allow our lives to become more direct and less a meandering, purposeless, error-filled tromp.
So, what obstacles is the Lord wanting to lead you through? Are you setting your gaze on the bigger picture, or getting tripped up over the rocks?
*Mentioned by Robert Moor in On Trails.