Is it time for a course correction? How do you know?

I’m a sailor, and I am dating myself here, but I remember the days before GPS was ubiquitous and one actually had to chart a course.  When cruising someplace where we anchored at night, every morning we would make coffee, get out the charts, pinpoint where we were based on the geography of the shore, and decide where we were going to sail that day.  A handy clear plastic sliding parallel tool made it a simple matter to determine the compass heading that would take us there.  Any sailor who has tried to steer to an exact compass heading manually, however, knows that actually doing it is more difficult.  The task is trickier still in ocean crossing because determining one’s exact position involves greater discernment, and a small heading error can make a big difference over a long distance.

It strikes me that navigating our lives is kind of like that.  Sometimes we are close to shore and we know exactly where we are.  Sometimes we don’t even need to read our compass heading because the destination is within sight.  Other times it feels as though we haven’t seen land for days, and although we have a general idea of where we are, we’re not exactly sure.  Taking stock of where we are is critical.  A heading that is just a few degrees off can put us hundreds of miles away from our intended destination if we sail merrily along without periodically pausing to assess our position and direction.

Brian McLaren offers a spiritual exercise to this effect in his book, Finding Our Way Again.  He suggests:

Think about who you were yesterday in terms of character, compared to who you are today. How would you fill in these blanks: “Today I’m more _____ and less ____ than
yesterday”? Do the same regarding a year ago and ten years ago.

He then asks:

What will your character be like in ten years, given your current trajectory?

This was a useful and provocative exercise for me personally, but it begs the bigger question:  Where do you want to go?  This is the question for Elul.  Maybe we haven’t figured out our life’s destination, but we can contemplate our destination for the year ahead and take stock.  At the risk of torturing the metaphor, sailing the course is difficult and corrections can offset our mistakes.  Further, sometimes life events alter our destination.  If I’m sailing for Gibraltar and a hurricane pops up in my path, I might be wise to course correct to Florida.  It pays to stay alert in hurricane season!  At times my course may need only a few degrees of adjustment, and at times it may need a total turn-around.  But how does one ever know if one doesn’t stop to look?

Join the conversation. What inspires you to take a compass reading on your life path?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.   Visit