At different times in my life, I relate to different characters in the Bible. It is encouraging that God includes stories of people he has used for his purposes, even when they tried to run from unwanted or unexpected ‘turns’ in their lives. Aaron Sharp has written a book, I Didn’t Sign Up For This: Navigating Life’s Detours, which addresses a subject so many of my clients struggle with, such as circumstances in their life they ‘didn’t sign up for’ and major ‘detours’ they didn’t expect.
Sharp offers the prophet Elijah as a great example, described in I Kings 18 and 19. Elijah returns to the Jewish people under the wicked rule of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Using the prophet Elijah as the ‘poster child’ for how God works in our lives, Sharp introduces a simple term, "detour," to describe how Elijah’s life went awry. In his words, a detour is "your life making an unexpected and almost always unwanted turn." A classic definition of the word is "taking a long or roundabout route to avoid something."
Elijah's detour begins when he fled the city upon learning that Queen Jezebel planned to have him captured and murdered. Even though God is ever present with Elijah, Elijah navigates his detour by abandoning God’s people, his role with God, and contemplated life itself. From Elijah’s perspective, God seems unseen and seemingly un-involved (I Kings 18:1-4), yet God interacts and directs Elijah through the angel of the Lord (verses 5-9a), dialogues directly with Elijah (verses 9b-14), and then personally commands Elijah (verses 15-18).
Sharp's book is chock-full of practical advice, but I want to share the ‘guidepost’ in chapter 1, “Detours and Unmet Expectations,” as particularly helpful. Sharp identifies three problems with our formation of our expectations during a ‘detour’:
Sharp reasserts that when we find our journey through life taking a detour, we need to check our expectations. When we re-frame what the detour truly is--within God's plan--we can begin to accept the new route with all its uncertainty. We can accept where it will lead and why God allowed it. With the grounding of faith in God, we will have reassurance that God remains by our side. Elijah’s fall from glory to fear when viewed from a perspective of unmet expectations can help explain how fragile we all are in the face of unexpected detours.
Once our expectations are reset, Sharp offers some practical advice while on a detour:
Take time to look for God’s purpose in the situation instead of your own best interests. Sharp cites the blind man in John 9 when Jesus explained the blindness was allowed "...so that the works of God might be displayed in him." When we minimize the need for an answer to the ‘Why me’ of the detour, we can shift our focus to wondering ‘How’ God will use our story to impact others.
The more firm or rigid your expectations, the harder it becomes to adapt to the actual reality of the situation, especially when we try to predict our own future.
Sharp ends each chapter with several questions for discussion. Chapter 1 include questions such as:
One of my clients commented, “The main thing I took from this book was God’s Plan vs My Plan. Especially today, a lot of people live for themselves and put God on the back burner. The book showed me we are here to put God first and problems occur when we do the opposite. Am I scared, anxious, frustrated, and even mad sometimes? Yes. But the book helped me see that through prayer, reading the Bible, attending church, and seeking counseling that I am becoming stronger, more patient, more forgiving, and more loving than ever.”
If you are getting frustrated and need a fresh perspective, read I Didn’t Sign Up For This: Navigating Life’s Detours by Aaron Sharp.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Travis Jamieson