“I wish I had thought about this 20 years ago…”
How many times have I heard these words?
Sometimes twenty is replaced by ten, thirty, or forty, but the expression is not uncommon. Each time I hear these words, they bring me joy and sadness.
Joy because the speaker sees more clearly now than before, and life ahead promises to be different; sadness because he or she cannot rewrite history or regain all that has been lost.
My wife and I have the privilege of working at a family retreat center in the mountains of Colorado. We get a chance to stand alongside people, often husbands and wives — fathers and mothers — as they take a “time out” to look at their lives.
During the process of making friends with hundreds of people from around the country, we have witnessed many who found themselves in a place that is very different from where they were originally heading.
Certainly there are some who found themselves solidly on course. But most feel life is working out differently than they had planned.
We have listened to multitudes of husbands and wives say,
“How did we get here?”
“This is is almost the exact opposite of what we were hoping for.”
“We’ve been drifting off course and I’ve been too busy to see it.”
Drifting Off Course
My wife and I both flew airplanes in the Air Force for a number of years. We learned firsthand there are a variety of things that can cause you to get off course when you are flying.
- Unknown winds can blow you off track.
- Bad weather can necessitate a detour.
- Other air traffic can force you to change your flight path.
- Even your own inattention or distraction can cause you to drift off course.
When we spend time with couples and families on retreat, they share about some of the things that have gotten them off course.
The Drift From Busyness
Like the winds at high altitudes, busyness seems to be a constant force pushing against families.
For others, starting a business or pursuing other career dreams have nudged them off course.
The intensity of having and caring for children, especially multiple small children, has caused some families to falter.
And still others have been pushed off track by unexpected health problems.
The Drift is Subtle
When someone makes a dramatic change in his or her direction in life, it is easy to see.
If your next door neighbor, who is a longtime accountant, picks up his family and moves to Vegas, enrolls with his wife in a seven card stud crash course, and sets the family sights on winning the World Series of Poker, everyone knows he has made a 90-degree heading change.
He has made a hard left turn and intentionally aimed for a very different destination.
But much more common is the phenomena of families subtly drifting off course.
When you are flying an airplane and you begin to slowly drift off course 10 degrees to one side, you normally do not notice this drift if you are looking out the cockpit windows.
A gradual 10-degree heading change is virtually imperceptible unless you are looking at the flight instruments.
But the end result of such a small course change is surprising and significant.
Italy or Libya?
Let’s imagine you are flying on a jet leaving New York for an anniversary celebration with your spouse in southern Italy. You have learned a little of the Italian language and are dreaming about the wonderful food and balmy Mediterranean weather.
Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft drifts off course 10 degrees to the South (your right). The pilot is not paying close attention and consequently never discovers the plane has drifted off course.
After flying the appropriate duration, the pilot finds a suitable runway and lands the airplane.
When you deplane, you are greeted not by the sights and sounds you expected but by seventy mile an hour winds, forcing sand into your eyes, nose, and ears.
Instead of hearing some of the Italian language, you hear Arabic and see camels in the distance.
You recognize your dream vacation may be a little different than expected since you are not in southern Italy but rather in the Sahara desert of western Libya.
Stopping the Drift
If you end up in a different destination than planned on your anniversary vacation, you would find it difficult. But that difficulty pales in comparison to ending up in a different destination in life.
Finding yourself off course, even by a small margin, and doing nothing about it will lead you to a different destination than you desire.
This realization of being “off course” may come to you like an unexpected flash of lightning.
Sometimes, it is a husband saying to his wife, “I don’t think I love you anymore.” Other times it is the accidental discovery of a teenager’s secret and destructive lifestyle.
But for most, the recognition is not so abrupt and shocking. Because the drift has been slow and gradual, most people can only determine if they are off course after they have left their normal pace and routine for several days.
Only with an unhurried, careful examination can they see if their direction has truly changed.
When they do see clearly, many experience the realization they are being directed by “the tyranny of the urgent” rather than by their core values.
Some families may realize that their lifestyle looks and feels just like their neighbors who are not trying to follow God.
A Father’s Story of Drift
One father described his drifting off course this way:
“In isolating ourselves from church and church people, we sought a simpler faith, away from all the ‘fakeness’ sometimes associated with “religion.” But in so doing, I let my thought process become influenced more by the world. Jesus’ words and the other truths of the Bible became obscured and pushed into the background…not completely gone, just well off into the periphery of our lives.
Our retreat woke me up.
My metaphor is this… At one point in our marriage I was vigilant and studious, working hard to understand God’s design for us, and my responsibilities as a husband and a father. I was as diligent as I might be when driving at night; tired, but concerned about the precious cargo in the car — my family. And after a time, I became tired as I struggled to stay awake, and eventually nodded o …only to awaken in a panic, not sure how long I had been asleep at the wheel.
For me, the retreat was one of those moments. I realized I had been asleep at the wheel. My focus had not been on God and His instruction manual for life. Instead, I fell back to philosophy, reason, and morality…thinking that my “superior logical intellect” had mostly everything figured out already. My prayer is that I’ll never put myself or my family in that kind of jeopardy again.”
Do Not Despair!
Realizing we are off course in life should not cause us to despair, or enter denial or depression.
If we are truly off course, it is immensely valuable to recognize it. What matters most is what we do with that knowledge.
Correcting the Drift
If we have drifted off course, even just ten degrees, it is critical that we make a course correction.
The destination we will reach at the end of our lives depends upon it.
The long-lasting impact your life has on your loved ones depends upon it.
What you will honestly be able to say about your life as you look in the mirror depends upon it.
The View From The Rocking Chair
This book is meant to keep you from saying, “I wish I had thought about this twenty years ago.”
It’s meant to keep you from living with regret due to your choices.
If you keep reading, you will have the chance to consider what is most important – and how to live in light of that assessment – right now.
Our hope is when you reach the end of your life, you will look back on this study knowing it helped you make careful, thoughtful, intentional choices and that your destination is different because of it.