My biological alarm went off at 5 am again this morning, I was wide awake.

The advantage of the 3 hour time change is that it makes it easier to enjoy a hike before the desert sun can bake me. I pulled up the route to a trail nearby, only a 15 minute drive to a mountain. Phoenix is my kind of town.

Melissa and I flew into Phoenix two days ago, hoping to find a way forward. Our family is moving to Phoenix to be a part of a church plant, and we needed to find a job, a house, and a school. The rest of the team wouldn’t be moving for six months or so, they were in Chicago for a transition period. We had decided that we wanted to move in time for our kids to start school, about 60 days from now, even if it meant being ahead of the team by several months.

The process has felt a bit like we’re moving towards the Red Sea, just hoping it would part. This trip was our way of stepping into the water. Our house is under contract, and my job ends in 10 days. The path behind us is closing, and we’d sure like to know there’s a way forward.

I pulled into the lot and started down the trail. Almost immediately I found myself in a little valley, surrounded by the many peaks of South Mountain. It seems that the closer I get to mountains, the more electricity flows through my veins. I tried to walk, to take it slow and enjoy the beauty. But I was driven by a deeper part of me, I had to run. I giggled to myself as I bounced from rock to rock, steadily climbing the mountain in front of me.

I began to chill out as the mountain became steeper. It was no longer a straight trail, every 75 yards or so, the trail would do a 180 degree turn as it climbed the mountain. Switchbacks. It’s the wisdom and kindness of the trailblazers to add these countless little detours. Of course they make the trail longer, but they save us from the straight shot up the mountain. The incline would not be sustainable.

As I cut back and forth up the mountain, I thought of the events of yesterday. It was a series of 180 degree turns, not at all what I expected. On the trail I’m grateful for switchbacks, but when it comes to real life they are annoying.

The day had come for my long anticipated interview with the plumbing company in Phoenix. I had applied to over 40 places, and I had earned 1 interview. This needed to work, and I was sure it would. Before the interview, I received a call from another member of the plant team.

“Hey man, I’m praying for you,” he said. “I hope it all works out.”

“Thanks, I appreciate the prayers, we need them!”

He laughed. “If for some reason, all the doors close in your face and things don’t work out, we can find a way for you to come to Chicago with us.”

This was the 2nd time he had mentioned the option. It sounded awful. I saw no reason why we would consider it.

He continued, “You know, I could see how that could be a really good thing for the team. If your family came, we would all be here and we’d be able to more fully do the work of preparation together.”

This was a new thought to me. I told Melissa what he had said and I headed to my interview.

The interview went better than I anticipated. We hit it off. He offered me the job without hesitation. The culture of his business and the structure of the work was so appealing. I headed back to our host home full of excitement. I called Melissa on the drive.

“How did it go?”

“I have a nice looking job offer!”

“No way!” Her tone was more subdued than I expected.

“The Red Sea has thus parted.” I pronounced, with all the drama I could muster.

“Yeah, well we need to talk about that.”

Switchbacks. It’s easier to appreciate them when you can see the whole picture. But when you’re just walking out your journey, switchbacks feel jarring. We can see the thing we desire, and we know that the desire is good, so we think we can simply move directly toward it. We may sense a subtle prompting of the Lord in a different direction, but that couldn’t be right, it’s not in the direction we want to go, so we dismiss it. Eventually we either force it through and find ourselves dissatisfied and disillusioned, or we get totally derailed somewhere along the way.

Following Jesus is usually not in a straight line.

I’m learning that following Jesus is usually not a straight line. Have you ever looked at the route the Israelites took during their 40 years in the wilderness? It’s a spiderweb of switchbacks. Paul has a frustrating series of switchbacks in Acts 16. He wants to go to particular spots to share the Gospel, but he keeps finding the way blocked…by the Holy Spirit of all things! Eventually in a dream the Lord directs him to Macedonia, a place he had not considered.

Why all the switchbacks?

Why is the process of following Jesus so full of twists and turns? I’ve actually thought about this a lot, and I’d like to share a few nuggets I’ve gleaned in my journey thus far.

  1. God is more invested in the process than the destination.

As Oswald Chambers states, "What we see as the journey, God sees as the goal." This is because God desires to have mature sons (Ephesians 1:4-5, daughters included). There is something to be inherited and there is something to be developed, these happen within process. Set aside your desire to arrive and embrace the process. 

Ask God,  "What do you want to do in me in this season? What are you accomplishing in me? How can I partner with what you're doing?"

There are important things He wants to cultivate in you. Our friend Putty Putman once said to us, “God is cultivating things in you during this transition that you’ll need for your next season.” If you shortcut the process, you’ll miss out on the deep things that you’ll need for where you’re going.

  1. The slow process is God’s patient way of helping us let go of old things.

We want certain things to change, but we are often resistant to other more necessary changes. We find comfort in continuity. We feel safe and secure when things stay the same. However, when we’re following Jesus, change is a guarantee. If His Kingdom is always increasing (Isaiah 9:7), and if He promises that He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28-39) then change is to be embraced rather than despised. 

In seasons of transition, we experience the death of what has been, in order for something new to grow. Often these deaths are primarily internal. Ways of thinking, ways of relating, distorted desires, etc. The longer we’re in the process, the more our hearts can begin to open up to the possibilities. As we become more aware of the value of the needed change, our grip loosens. 

  1. Process can draw us toward God’s presence.

We tend to be eager for seasons of discomfort and unknowns to end quickly. We think, I’ll be happier when this is all over. Sure we’ll experience relief, but we’ll miss the opportunity for an upgrade. Peace and joy are not circumstantial. They are fruits of the Spirit. They are the result of our increasing awareness of and connection to the Lord. Ironically, painful and challenging seasons can position us to move more intentionally toward the Lord. As we do, peace and joy displace circumstantial angst in our hearts.

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” -Philippians 4:5-7

Every cause for anxiety is a doorway to the Throne of Grace. You can learn to use the pain of the process to propel you into God’s presence. As we draw near we find that we have everything we need that our circumstances tried to tell us we didn’t.

After the interview I sat with Melissa and listened as she shared some things the Lord was opening up to her about our hearts in this transition. It was painful to hear, but it quickly became clear to both of us that we were at an important switchback. We worked through the new layers of repentance and surrender, and we began to open ourselves up to the possibility of a 1,500 mile detour to Chicago.

Honestly, I don't mind. Fulfillment doesn't come from having arrived. It comes from the company you keep on the journey.

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