We’ve all been there. You’re cruising along on your writing journey, powered by motivation and excited about the work, when WHAM! A detour comes out of nowhere and clobbers you. Everything screams to a halt, and you’re left reeling. But as bad as a detour can feel, we’re here to tell you that more often than not, detours are God’s ways of getting you to HIS destination for you!
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My (Karen’s) husband, Don, is a see-the-hill, take-the-hill kind of guy. Me? I’m happy to amble along, stopping wherever we feel like stopping. As you can imagine, Don and I have polar opposite feelings about detours. He sees them as utterly frustrating obstacles that HAVE to be overcome. But what I’ve discovered is that more often than not, the detours are the best part of the journey. If you just relax and trust you’ll eventually get where you need to be.
I (Erin) have to say I’m more like Don. I’m directional and goal oriented. Yet for me, becoming a writer seemed to happen through one giant decade-long (or two decades-long) detour. So I’ve gained a healthy respect for detours. That doesn’t mean they don’t still frustrate me sometimes.
When it comes to our writing and our publishing journeys, lots of us hate when we smash into detours. We react with frustration, even anger. And that seems reasonable. I mean, we’ve been working so hard to accomplish what we need to, and wham. Something over which we have zero control blocks us. Why would God allow that to happen?
What are Detours?
Well before we answer that, let’s take a deeper look at detours.
Webster defines a detour as “a deviation from a direct course or the usual procedure…a roundabout way temporarily replacing part of a route.”
A deviation. That sounds negative, and considering Webster’s definition of deviation, that’s a reasonable deduction:
- A departure from an established ideology or party line
- A noticeable or marked departure from accepted norms
Departure from what’s established? Departure from accepted norms? Detours are sounding worse all the time.
Then there’s the other definition in Webster’s, where a detour is “a roundabout way…replacing part of a route.” Meaning you’re going to go all over the place just to get back to where you should have been before the detour showed up!
Lots of us react in similar ways when detours stop us in our tracks and send us off on some unknown path to God only knows where. We’re like:
I can’t believe this!
This will take forever!
I was just starting to make some progress!
I’ll never reach my destination!
So yeah, detours are hard. And frustrating.
But we want to suggest something a little different. To do so, we’re going to consider several different kinds of detours:
- Bad Detours
- Power Detours
- Opportunity Detours
Let’s admit it. Some detours are just bad.
When I (Karen) was traveling with my editor friend Julee, we somehow ended up on a detour on our way to San Francisco. We ended up in a really bad part of Oakland. At night. How did I know it was a bad part? Houses were all boarded up or had bars on the windows. There was a stop sign riddled with gun shots, and a group of shady-looking guys stood on the sidewalk. I was scared to death!
Julee reached up to turn on the map light, and the guys saw right into our car. They started toward us, and I heard crude comments and saw the looks on their faces. Understand, Julee was young and beautiful and as blond as it gets. I shut off the map light and floored the car, watching in my rearview mirror as the guys ran into the street and yelled after us. Julee asked if I knew where I was going. I said, “Away from there. That’s all I need to know.”
That’s a bad detour.
I (Erin) had a bad detour, too. I’d just gotten my drivers’ license. I was young and had gotten my first job at a department store near home, but I needed to go to training a half hour away. I thought I knew where I was going. I’d gotten directions, and I stayed on the road I was told. But there’s a section where that road gets a different name, so I turned to stay on the road with the same actual street name.
Turns out that road became an interstate, and pretty soon this young, inexperienced driver was on her way to Chicago. Not a good place for a new driver. This was all before GPS, so I didn’t know how to get off the expressway and back where I was going. Worse, it was dark outside and difficult to see. I tried to get off the interstate, and ended up on another expressway, this time the signs said I was headed for O’Hare International Airport. In a panic, I exited yet again and finally found civilization. I stopped at a gas station and called on a pay phone (because this was before cell phones) to get directions once again. I finally made it to the training, but I was very late and still shaking when I got there.
Those kinds of bad detours, the detours that stop you in your writing journey, DO take you all over the map. They leave you feeling powerless and lost. Confused. Deflated. Discouraged. And they never seem to take you back to where you want to be. You find yourself unsure of your next step. Or if you’re even supposed to take a next step.
Uncertainty like that is never fun. It can make you start to doubt yourself and doubt that you ever heard from God: Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten on this path to begin with?
Then you start to doubt your purpose: Why am I even trying to do this? What made me think I could? And now those questions are a whole new detour taking you from trust in God to doubt and fear and all kinds of things you just don’t have to go through. Why not? Because there is one thing you can always, always trust about those bad detours:
God will use them.
He’ll use them to refine you in your walk with him. To develop a spirit of praise no matter what happens to you.
1 Peter 1:6-7 tells us, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Psalm 66:8-12 says, “Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises. Our lives are in his hands, and he keeps our feet from stumbling. You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver. You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs. Then you put a leader over us. We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”
God will also use the bad detours to deepen your trust in him and his control over your life and career. To help you believe he WILL complete his work in you, no matter how things look. To remind you that trust in him isn’t about what’s happening in your life, it’s about HIM being who he says he is. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust him in the dark—that is faith.”
Listen to Psalm 111:2-8. “How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does (even detours!) reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. He causes us to remember his wonderful works. How gracious and merciful is our Lord!…He always remembers his covenant. He has shown his great power to his people…All he does is just and good, and all his commandments are trustworthy. They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.”
Then there’s this wisdom from Deuteronomy 7:9: “Know therefore that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful God, who keeps his covenant and his lovingkindness to a thousandth generation.”
So the next time one of those rotten, painful, just plain bad detours slams you to a halt, use it. Purpose to keep your focus on the Lord your God, not on the path you were so sure you needed to follow. Remember he is God, and he will accomplish HIS purposes for you and your writing. No detour in creation can ever change that.
Remember Romans 8: 5-9, 14, 18: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires [on the path or route we think is right]; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”
And here’s the good news, especially in the face of detours:
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit…For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Some detours are God demonstrating his power.
On another cross country trip with Julee, we tried to go visit a place where there was going to be some type of Native American event. On the way there, we had to follow a detour that led us all over the place, to the middle of nowhere in a desert area. There were no signs, so we ended up just guessing where to go. Then we realized we were running out of gas. We were praying like crazy, and our car was on fumes, when we finally spotted a gas station. We stopped for fuel, and asked the attendant about the place we were trying to visit.
He looked at us, frowned, and said, “You girls don’t want to go there. That’s not a good place. It’s not safe for you.” He gave us directions back to the freeway, which were surprisingly simple. We agreed as we got back on the freeway that the detour, and bringing us to that gas station in the middle of nowhere, was God’s way of keeping us safe.
That was a power detour. Power detours teach us to be grateful, and remind us that God is there, watching over us. Julee and I were stunned at the way God protected us. Shoot, we both said we wouldn’t be surprised if we drove back to the station and it wasn’t even there. That God had given us a heavenly pit stop when we needed it. Whether that’s true or not, I do know that God protected us.
I (Erin) experienced a power detour as well. Some of you know my hubby’s job went away a couple years ago. That’s pretty much always some type of road block or detour. We knew God had another place for us, but we didn’t know why it was taking so long for him to tell us where. We waited a year. Alan was looking for a job the whole time.
It turned out that the job God had for Alan wasn’t available until after the year we had waited was over. The person whose position Alan took had yet to leave. But all that time, God sustained us. He showed us he’d take care of us, and he did. Alan had wondered if God was bringing him into a different career. We got that answer: no. Out of the multiple jobs he applied for (dozens and dozens and dozens), and for which he was qualified, God brought Alan right back to teaching, but in a different place. Which was good, because there were a lot of frustrations at his other job, and he was never going to quit.
This road block felt like it was just a holding pattern. But it was God’s sovereign hand. It was God showing his power over time. He orchestrates the universe. It was God telling us he’d sustain us and put us where he wanted us when he wanted us there. These detours help us understand that and glorify God for it. “There is no one like God to help…” 2 Chronicles 14:11.
Psalm 9:1-2, 9-10, says, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
Opportunity detours are when God steps in to take us off of one path and plant us on another of HIS choosing for HIS purposes. Sometimes those detours lead to a different destination, sometimes not. But always in a different way than we thought we’d be going because he knows what is best for us.
We call these opportunity detours because with each one, we have the opportunity to see these detours as coming from God’s hand, which means we explore them with a sense of confidence and anticipation.
I (Karen) was in charge of fiction at Multnomah. A detour happened, one that stopped me cold in my career tracks. One that both Don and I knew meant God was leading me to leave Multnomah. I was shocked. I loved working at Multnomah. I was frightened, too. I made good money. How would we survive financially? But God was clear, so I left.
Within days of leaving, I had freelance editing work lined up for a year. People just called me out of the blue. Then I was called by Zondervan to come head up their fiction line. I loved working there, too. Then wham. Another detour hit.
This time, though I really didn’t want to leave that job, I was able to accept the detour and go with confidence. I went back to freelance editing. Then another publisher called, and I worked for them. Then…another detour. So I went into agenting.
Then another detour. All of which led me to where I am now, doing things I always dreamed of doing, but was too afraid, for the longest time, to do. My “trust” was in my bank balance, not in God’s provision. So I was always worried about “what if?” What if I get sick? What if I can’t work?
It took all those detours, and moments of God refining and providing and teaching me, for me to finally do what God wanted me to do: Trust Him. For everything. Now I leave it all to God. Editing, speaking, podcasting, writing…whatever door He opens, I go through and see if that’s where he wants me.
The beauty is that we’ve never been without. I had the freedom to focus on my dad as he battled stomach cancer that last year of his life. I have no regrets about spending that time with him. When I struggled with stomach issues for a year and couldn’t work, God provided. When I was hospitalized and almost died from lung disease, God was there. It took me months to recover and be able to work again, but we were fine. Because…God.
I (Erin) had opportunity detours, too. Some of you know that I have a masters degree in music theory and composition. That was part of my detour on the way to becoming a writing!
I had written a one-act opera for my recital for my degree. Most often composers play in their own recital, but I hated performing, so I didn’t write a part of an instrument I play. Or composers conduct at their recital, but I wasn’t very good at conducting, and this opera was not going to be easy to conduct. And I wanted to see the opera acted out, not just with singers standing there singing in concert, so I asked if my contribution to the performance could be stage directing.
The school agreed, but I had to take a couple classes in directing. Now typically the last thing you want to do when you’re trying to finish your degree is sign up for yet more classes. But I ended up studying directing with a visiting professor who had amazing credentials (his mentor had been John Houseman), and he was only there for that one year I needed to study directing. It was in those directing classes that I ended up learning a stunning amount about writing. I learned about goals and motivation and conflict, and action beats, and you name it. It was amazing, and this detour was probably the biggest contributor to why I ended up as a writer. God had that planned all along.
Yes, detours can be hard. They can be stinky and bad. But God will still use them. Yes, detours can be opportunities for God to demonstrate his power, when we didn’t even realize we needed those demonstrations. But he does it because he loves us. And yes, detours are opportunities for us to trust God. To trust that our God is the God of everything. The God of our careers. The God of our families. We don’t have to be afraid.
For every detour I’ve faced, I can tell you God has been faithful to His promises to guide and sustain, to provide for me, to refine me. I can honestly say that when detours hit now, I find myself getting a little excited and asking God what He’s up to now.
So the next time you slam into a detour on your writing journey, or if you’re in a detour right now, meet it with determination and confidence, because you’ve just encountered Almighty God and his will for you. Your journey, your career, and your heart are all firmly in His hands. There’s no need to be afraid or upset. Instead, focus on God and see where he’s taking you. I guarantee your final destination will overflow with God’s provision and blessings. As it says in Isaiah 48:17, “I am the Lord your God…who leads you in the way you should go.”Have you encountered a detour on your writing journey? Meet it with confidence and grace! #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
How has God used detours in your life and writing journey?
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Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain! She’s been working on her first book, a Christian speculative novel titled Make Known His Path.
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