By Nicole Hoover
I’m always talking to my dad from the road.
Thursdays. 5:00-6:00 PM. This is our recurring calendar invitation to chat while I travel through three states to get home.
“Your generation amazes me,” he always makes a point to remark. “My generation was happy to land a job in their early 20s, settle down in the same town we were born in, and rarely ever cross county lines. You guys jet across the world like it’s just today’s agenda. You can just pick up and put down somewhere entirely different. Unfazed.”
I nod as if he can see me affirm his sage analysis of my troubled generation. It makes a lot of sense. And as I spend the next few minutes cycling through my Rolodex of family and friends—young and old—the data seem to support his claim.
“We’re just more flexible, Dad,” I tease. “I love to travel. It’s so exciting. Unfazed.”
Do you (yes reader, you) even own a physical, paper map? Honestly, I do not. I remember the days of MapQuest printouts, missed exits, and all “Cash” toll lanes, but I’m not sure that qualifies. How did people travel before electronic global positioning systems? Sit down… unfold the map (honestly, it NEVER folds back up the same and that BOTHERS me)…mark out a path….with NO regard for differential highway speeds…tolls…construction…lurking police vehicles…traffic…
Maybe even chart MULTIPLE courses that would get you to the same destination.
I’m poking fun at my generation, but think about it. We jump in the car and set the destination, often by name. Knowing the actual address of things is below our mental capacity to function. Then we follow that enticing GPS voice wherever it takes us—I’d venture to say more obedient to its direction than that of any other figure in our lives.
Driving along. Jamming. Miss the turn. A voice interrupts our song. “Recalculating…”
FREEZE. FREAK OUT. “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW? THERE IS NO OTHER OPTIMAL WAY TO ARRIVE AT THE DESTINATION!” So flexible.
Am I right? I’m right. Total freak out moment. In a few very unnerving seconds, we get a glimpse of our directional ignorance AND our level of discomfort at the mere insinuation (by that sassy GPS voice) that we have somehow not performed optimally. She said, “Recalculating,” but she clearly meant, “You are stupid and didn’t follow the plan. You fail.”
And this really is a commentary on our generation, isn’t it? Can I get an “amen” from all the folks out there who are performance-oriented and measure their self-worth with verbal affirmation, high standards, and leave no room for inefficiency and failure? And this mindset contaminates most relationships in our lives, doesn’t it? We don’t tend to open up the map and plot out multiple paths to one destination. We aren’t really that flexible. Instead, we hone in on one ideal course—the one originally plotted by the GPS. We strive for fuel efficiency. And no tolls. We’d sure love folks to stand by the roadside and applaud as we arrive on time. We don’t see value in the journey. We don’t feel valued by the journey. We care about the journey only as a way of reaching the destination.
This hit me afresh this year.
“Recalculating…” God said to me as I stared into the intoxicated eyes of my husband for the very last time he would hold that title. I was well into the throes of a post-traumatic stress induced anxiety attack. This was not my first rodeo with him in this state, or with me in mine.
What did I hear instead?
“Nicole, you are stupid and didn’t follow the plan. You fail.”
Here’s where I insert the secret club handshake to all those out there who know the struggles of loving a drug addict. It’s a nightmare. And sometimes it isn’t a nightmare. But those times are shadowed by all past nightmares and all future nightmares yet to come. That’s been my experience, anyway. My therapist helped me eventually understand that it isn’t like walking with someone in a linear, albeit bumpy, path forward to eventual full recovery. Instead, it’s being committed to a set of behaviors that circle back on themselves. You hope there are longer and longer stretches of time as you mark the circumference, but you are always circling.
But the point of this isn’t to hash out what it is like to try to love a drug addict. The point of this is to make it abundantly clear to all those performance-oriented lovers of Jesus out there that God has a big ‘ol paper map, the ability to plot many courses, and promises to guide you through every turn no matter how many times you turn to him annoyingly and ask “Are we there yet?”
You see, it took me entirely too long to trust God’s new direction for my life simply because I was so convinced that I had already heard God’s direction for my life years before; the two directions were not the same. And my brain couldn’t handle that. I was zeroed in on a voice I had heard, not one I was hearing. I was zeroed in on a voice that was right and just in its time, but allowed for concepts I never paid attention to: freewill and costly disobedience.
Have you ever doubted God’s good direction for your life simply because it suggested a detour from what you thought to be the most efficient path towards your ultimate destination? Did you ever let the adversary get into your head just like he did in Eden and say, “Did God really say..?” as a way of convincing you that God doesn’t actually enter into continual conversation with you but rather speaks once and for all and demands peak performance and achievement, regardless of freewill? In other words, have you ever listened to God once and then tuned him out as you set on your overachieving, look-at-me-now, love-is-so-conditional way?
Six years ago, as my husband was released from prison (again with the secret handshake) I heard God’s clear call to forgiveness, mercy, and terrifyingly, reconciliation. Granted, I pretended not to hear that for a good, long time. But in the end, I knew that God’s gift of forgiveness to me was only honored well if I gave that gift to my husband. So we charted the coordinates into the GPS. We forgave each other and committed to a linear, albeit bumpy, path forward into reconciliation.
And I stopped listening for God’s turn-by-turn navigation. Because, hey…I heard him already. I already knew where we were going.
But, remember those behaviors that circle back again and again? (AGAIN, with the secret handshake)
And as my husband battled demons I could never comprehend over and over and over again, I strapped my three young sons in and kept driving in one direction—the direction God originally told me to go. Off we went. Then slowly, and very surely, I lost all sense of direction and intimacy with my Navigator. I wasn’t listening for guidance anymore because I didn’t think I had a need to. I was on a mission. Little did I know that that I was actually not listening to God’s direction largely because a cyclically toxic relationship was corroding my trust and reliance on his navigation. My insistence on this one direction actually meant that I never hit the brakes often enough to see the road signs, detour, and re-calibrate in light of the pain I had endured at the hands of someone who had vowed to uphold me forever. And my insistence on this one direction prevented me from seeing how I was actually just driving in circles. You don’t really get a solid chance to heal wounds when someone cuts them open over and over again. It is nearly impossible to heal while stuck in the same environment that broke you. And when you don’t heal, you hurt. And when you hurt, you hide. And when you hide, you do everything possible to make sure you never let anyone, God included, get close enough to seemingly navigate you towards hurt ever again. Period.
And so, imagine my dismay when I was standing there, face-to-face with the same demons I’d been battling in my marriage for a decade, and heard God say, “Recalculating…”
I. could. not. even.
FREEZE. FREAK OUT. “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW? THERE IS NO OTHER OPTIMAL WAY TO ARRIVE AT THE DESTINATION!”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘RECALCULATING’?!!” “I AM COMMITTED TO THIS PATH YOU PUT ME ON. DON’T YOU DARE DETOUR NOW!”
(Yea I do actually yell at God sometimes. I’m a work in progress.)
Know what I heard next?
“Nothing you have done or could do will cause me to change my love for you. Now, look at the map. I am calling you to a path where you can trust my unconditional love and rest in my abiding provision. Together, we will chart a course beyond this toxic and repetitive pain and put it in your rear-view mirror. Sin broke a marriage I bound together. Now, look at me, not him. We have to detour. I have your destination in mind, but I want you to focus on the journey—a journey of healing, peace, and intimacy with me. Turn. Now.”
So cheers to you my performance-oriented, jet-setting, destination-focused friends. Here’s to all your successes simply because you are so focused on optimal direction, efficiency, and destinations full of sunshine and butterflies. This personality trait often serves us so well in our professions. But, do this: nurture a different personality trait in your relationship with God. Instead of zeroing in on God’s one voice at one point in time, consider the value of continual navigation. Consider God to be your co-passenger—allowing for bathroom breaks, fights over radio station channels, flat tires, scenic detours, and sometimes, complete U-turns. And don’t doubt the assurance of God’s ultimate destination—which is not a destination at all. Instead, it’s your knowledge and experience of his unconditional Fatherly love. It’s your reception of His love, peace, and joy in the face of all of life’s road closures. It’s your ability to soak that all in and share it openly with the world, billboard style.
Turn, if you must. Now.
I can’t wait to talk to my dad.
I’ll say, “I love to travel, Dad. It’s so exciting. Let me tell you about picking up and putting down somewhere entirely different. Totally fazed.”
Nicole Hoover lives with her 3 sons in Landisville, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she works for a biomanufacturing innovation institute operated out of the University of Delaware. As a former instructor for the Lancaster County Re-Entry Management Organization, she advocates for families who have been traumatically impacted by drug abuse and incarceration. She knows that God is in the waiting and is looking forward to how this biography unfolds as she learns to lean in and trust God's good directions.