I bet you’ve had a day like this too:
I woke up extra early with my list of errands in hand. My first stop was unexpectedly closed. Then the bridge was out, and the detour was backed up for miles. An hour and a half later, I finally made it to my main destination only to find they had closed for the season, yesterday. When I had called earlier in the week to check their hours, that detail had somehow been neglected.
As I put my car in reverse, all the ways I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve spent my morning ran through my head. All that time, wasted.
The incident reminded me of a time in college when I had walked the entire length of campus to an office that was closed.
“What a waste,” I grumbled to myself as I started the trek back to my dorm.
In the next moment, a cardinal flashed across the sidewalk in front of me, paused long enough on a branch tip to serenade me with his trilling crescendo, and then disappeared.
The scene was so surprisingly beautiful, I stopped dead in my tracks to the whispered thought: nothing is ever a waste.
It’s a lesson I need to learn repeatedly, because this was not the first time, nor the last, when I will have days like this. As I’ve contemplated why some days go according to plan and others spin like a hamster wheel going nowhere, I have a few ideas that I think are worth considering.
We may be going in the wrong direction.
Sometimes our days don’t go according to plan precisely because they are our plans. We need to pause long enough to hear whether God is prompting us in a different direction. I don’t think every Road Closed is a message from God – sometimes life is just messy – but if we’re repeatedly hitting the proverbial wall, we better at least ask God why. Did He put the wall there to send us in a different direction?
We may need time for personal development.
God may leave a wall in front of us not because it’s the wrong direction, but because it’s the wrong time. When it’s a big wall we’re hitting – relationships, careers, life directions – it could be that we’re not ready for what’s on the other side. We may need time to grow. Alternatively, when the wall we’re facing is built with life’s little frustrations, it may be less about what’s on the other side and more about us. It could simply be an opportunity to practice patience.
We may not be seeing the whole picture.
I’ve seen some remarkably tiny details in my life play out in ways that I know are touches from God. While every detail of our day is not orchestrated like a stage set for a stringed marionette, God can and does interject. Maybe what I considered wasted time was exactly how I was supposed to spend my day. Only God knows how the events that unfolded impact both my life and countless unseen intersections with others. God can turn even wasted time into a blessing.
There may not be a reason.
Sometimes there is no need to hyper-spiritualize every moment of every day. Sometimes life is messy, and that is the full extent of the story. What matters is not the why. What matters is how we respond.
What matters most…
Whether our “wasted time” was an orchestrated lesson from God or an impromptu opportunity gifted to us from the messiness of life, the key is our response to it. God wants us to seek his guidance, trust him, and maintain a good attitude.
Even if our day is not going according to plan, we can be polite to those we meet. We can choose to not get frustrated. We can look for opportunities to make the most of every situation. After all, the lessons learned along the way may be more important that whatever filled our to-do list.
Learning to be at peace in whatever comes our way is never time wasted.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s Word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her two- and four-footed friends. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org