Even though a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, it seems we very seldom take the direct route. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error before we figure out where we are going, and sometimes it turns out we’re right back where we started.
When we moved into our current house three years ago, I had grand plans for our backyard. We would build a play set! And plant a garden, and blueberry bushes, and possibly a grape arbor. Over the course of the next couple of years we set to work, striving to bring our dreams to fruition.
But we ended up coming almost full circle, because this yard once had beautiful trees and flowers scattered throughout the woodland paths. A previous owner had chopped down all the trees, with the intention of putting in a swimming pool, which never materialized. When we moved in, we opted to hire a landscaper to grind down eight or nine stumps that were cluttering up our yard—we could have planted new trees on the stump sites, but we decided instead to clear them out, in order to make room for the smooth lawn on which we contemplated setting up a croquet court. And planting a garden. And so on.
This year, our garden is really coming into its own. After several plantings, some of our blueberry bushes survived and may actually bear fruit. And I’m finally figuring out that what we really want, after all, is a few dogwoods, for some much-needed shade and much-wanted climb-ability. Who knew? If only I had figured that out three years ago!
But I didn’t know three years ago exactly what we wanted our yard to look like. We had our ideas and plans and projections, but it took living in this house for a while, as our kids grew and developed their preferences and personalities, for us to figure out where we wanted to take this plot of land.
When it comes to education, we don’t always know at the beginning exactly how our school plan is going to turn out. Sometimes there can be pressure to “get it right” the first time. We read articles about optimizing our children’s potential, complete with ominous reminders about how many things are irrevocably settled by age five (or whatever), and tend to get wrapped up in charting the perfect course that will launch our little arrows on the straight and narrow path to a bright future.
But the fact is that we often don’t know exactly which course to chart until we start taking a few steps down the path to see if it’s a good one for our family. We may make a few “false starts” before we find our footing, and that’s okay; I’d venture to say that the starts aren’t so much false as practice steps.
For instance, years ago, I read The Well-Trained Mind and was so inspired that I resolved to teach my children to write cursive before printing in order to ensure good hand-to-eye coordination, reinforce the left-to-right formation of words, and underscore a solid grasp of handwriting theory. But one eager learner dashed on ahead of me, inspired to write stories in sketchy scribbles before I had time to accumulate the proper cursive curriculum. Oops! Had I ruined her handwriting development and doomed her to a lifetime of unintelligible chicken scratches? No, it turned out that she learned cursive later on, and her handwriting has gradually improved with practice.
If I had held her back and discouraged her from writing things down until I deemed her motor skills were adequate, she would have missed out on the opportunity to explore her creativity, and I might have stunted a budding writer simply because I was obsessed with correct technique. The classical method emphasized the importance of nailing handwriting through rote practice before introducing creative thought (one thing at a time), so we did it backwards, according to the book. But we didn’t end up following the directions, and our method suited the need and led to a good result.
Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” When we walk in faith, we often find our path set out before us, one step at a time. Sometimes we don’t know where we are going until we get there. Sometimes we can look back and find out we took the long way around to get to our destination. It’s easy to look back and think that if only we’d known where we’d end up, we could have taken a shortcut! But for reasons often unbeknownst to us, we end up taking the scenic route. And sometimes those meandering detours end up being part of the process that made the journey worthwhile.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Rose Focht.