When a Fork in the Road Feels Like a Dead End
How to move forward when your life isn’t what you thought it would be.
I’ve become one of those infamous millennial boomerang children. It’s tempting to become discouraged and fall prey to fear and anxiety under the weight of so many unknowns. For what it’s worth, I’ve grown used to making decisions and accepting change. But closing one door without seeing another open has been hard — the burden of choosing what to pursue and how to pursue it, even harder. But, like it or not, I have to continue forward.
Too Many Choices
I’m certainly not alone in my plight. For most of us, we’re bombarded daily by more options than any other period in human history. Whether we’re searching for reviews of workout supplements, trying to find the best frozen yogurt shop in town, applying for jobs, or scrolling through online dating profiles, choices are everywhere.
But even when all of our options seem great, the burden of picking the best one can be debilitating. As Caroline Beaton writes in Psychology Today, “When overwhelmed with options, we tend to regret our decisions, obsess over foregone alternatives or simply not choose at all.”
Sometimes we have to make choices even when we can’t foresee positive outcomes in any direction. Whether we’re saying no to a guy we know isn’t right for us and wondering if we’ll be single forever, or quitting a toxic job and resigning to a season of unemployment, we must sometimes turn down one path without certainty that a satisfactory destination will be around the corner. Leaving a sure thing for confusion and possible failure is hard.
So how can we move forward when uncertainty clouds our vision? Here are five reminders that have given me practical hope in this season of my life.
1. Remember where your ultimate hope lies.
One of our biggest worries in times of the unknown is security. When will our money run out? How much rent will we be able to afford? Will we make our car payments? Will we ever find a forever partner? Will we always have to live alone?
These questions are valid, and proper planning is important. However, our greatest security isn’t in this world. God has already purchased our eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, and that inheritance isn’t going anywhere.
When we start to exalt earthly gain, wondering if we’ll reach those coveted societal goals, we’re bound to be disappointed. But when we focus instead on our heavenly reward, we’re free to be truly content in any situation under the sun knowing that we already have Jesus himself, and nothing could be better.
2. Confess your worry.
Although it’s often treated as one of those “acceptable” sins, worry is condemned in Scripture. Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Letting anxieties about the future overtake our kingdom focus is disobedient and shows a lack of trust in God’s character. When I’m in this place, I have to be honest with myself, repent of my sin, and ask God to give me faith to let tomorrow worry about itself. He who has watched over the sparrow will certainly take care of His own children, including me.
If this is a perpetual issue in your life, consider asking someone to be your accountability partner. We can’t deal rightly with our worry until we recognize it, and confessing our anxieties to those who will speak truth into them is a step in the right direction.
3. Surrender your plan.
Your life might not look like what you originally envisioned. In fact, it probably doesn’t, and in all likelihood, it never will. That’s OK. We have a master Plan-maker who works all things for His glory and the good of those who love Him. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Remind yourself who your God is and what He’s already done to prove His character. Be intentional to preach the gospel to yourself and remember that God even gave His own Son for your sake. He is for you and not against you. Ask Him daily to help you trust Him with both your today and your tomorrow.
4. Be faithful with what you have.
Even as you work toward the future, remember that your greatest mission is to live faithfully where you are today. God is in control of your life even when you feel like you’re idling. Invest. Build relationships. Share the gospel. Spend time on your own spiritual growth. Don’t miss out on nurturing your Christian walk today because your head is stuck in tomorrow. Be present, be intentional and pursue what’s right in front of you.
As you foster intentionality, consider keeping a spiritual journal to help you track God’s continual faithfulness. For me, this process has been both humbling and encouraging. When I look back and read vulnerable prayers written during past seasons of doubt and fear, hindsight helps me recount all of the ways God used my circumstances to develop me both as a person and a Christian.
5. Keep moving.
Disappointment and doubt can become paralyzing, but we don’t have to be crushed under the weight of indecision. The worst thing we can do is allow ourselves to become immobilized.
In his book “Just Do Something” Kevin DeYoung writes, “For most Christians, agonizing over decisions is the only sure thing we know to do.” But he continues, “…study the Scriptures, listen to others, and pray continually…and as you engage in these practices, don’t forget to make a decision — always with wisdom, always with freedom, and sometimes even with speed.”1
If you’re between jobs, pursue related options. Take up temp positions or an internship. Use free or cheap online courses to broaden your skillset. Connect with professionals in your area and ask for practical advice on how to move up in your desired industry. Use your free time to volunteer.
When I was finishing my undergrad degree, I came to the scary realization that I didn’t want to enter the field of my major. Though I was tempted to freeze, I decided to put in an application to teach English in East Asia. Through what felt like a whim, God led me to a missional opportunity that revolutionized my life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was my active pursuit of Plan B that set everything I’ve done since in action.
Road to Somewhere
Being the fallen and finite human beings that we are, detours to our plans are inevitable. But a bump in the road doesn’t have to become a dead end, even when we can’t see the path forward.
We have absolute security in Christ. We’ve been equipped with the tools we need to be faithful today. We have a great Plan-maker who will not fail us; He’s been faithful before and He’ll be faithful again. Jesus is a greater reward than anything else our hands will find. In Him, we have true freedom and rest as we move forward faithfully, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.
“[God] will provide us with the food, drink, jobs, housing, with everything that we need to live and glorify Him in this life until He wants us to glorify Him by dying. Worrying and fretting and obsessing about the future…will certainly not add any happiness or holiness.”2
Living or dying, let’s purpose to glorify God today, wherever we are, wherever we’re going, as we trust Him to take care of our tomorrow.
Copyright 2017 Juli Cooper. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Juli Cooper is an English teacher and freelance writer living in East Asia. Being a Massachusetts native, she loves all things New England including Dunkin Donuts coffee, Patriots football, and apple cider donuts. She’s passionate about watching the gospel move across cultural barriers while traveling to new places and meeting new people. Juli is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Intercultural Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and previously earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Cedarville University.