We’re told throughout the Bible that God has a plan for our lives, and it’s a plan that’s so much more amazing than anything we could ever begin to fathom. But what happens when we choose to go a different way than He has intended?

For many years I was under the false impression that any time I messed up, God made me go all the way back to where I messed up and start all over again. For that reason, I dreaded any time that I felt like God called me to do something. I was afraid of having Him standing over my shoulder analyzing my every move, and each time I messed up, hearing Him yell “cut!” and having to redo things all over again and again until I finally got it right. I was so afraid of messing up that I was constantly stopping and asking Him if I was doing it right and if what I was doing was His Will.

Over the course of the last year I’ve learned how wrong that is. I was, in essence, neglecting to remember that when we mess up, His Grace that we are given through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is more than sufficient to cover our sins and missteps. While it’s definitely true that God does have a specific plan for our lives (cf. Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Corinthians 2:9, Proverbs 16:9, and many others,) He also has blessed us with the gift of free will. And with this gift comes the ability for us to not follow His path.

So, when we decide to go our own way, for whatever reason, does God make us retrace our steps, running through the scene again? No. He does teach us through those times though, and grows us into the men and women that He created us to be. This doesn’t mean that He lets us off the hook of the consequences of our actions though. And while sometimes we do have to retrace some of our steps, when that happens it’s not because God is trying to hold it over us, it is because He loves us and is teaching us through it.

I’ve been getting to do a fair bit of traveling this summer, and it’s been a lot of fun. There have been a couple of times on longer trips we’ve needed to use a GPS as we travel. Before you start out on your trip, you enter your starting and ending points, and the GPS calculates an optimum path for you to take. But what happens if you miss an exit on the interstate? Or if you decide that you want to take I55 instead of I57? Does the GPS tell you “I’m not going to compensate for your decision, you must go back to where you left my path before I’ll help you go further.” No. Instead, initially it says basically “Um, hey, you missed your exit. Here’s how you can get back there.” But if you keep going, it will recalculate the path for you based on where you are now. And while sometimes that does involve backtracking for a little bit depending on where we’ve ended up, it doesn’t make us go all the way back to the beginning.

God does the same thing with us. When we choose to deviate from the plan that He has for our lives, at first His Holy Spirit will check us, and let us know what we’re planning on doing isn’t what He would have us to do. If we acknowledge the check at that point, He will show us how to get back to His original path. But if we keep going, He won’t necessarily try to stop us. But as we realize that where we are and where we’re going isn’t where we’re supposed to be, He will meet us right where we are, and will lead us to where He would have us to be.

Just like when we’re taking a trip somewhere and decide to go our own way, we won’t necessarily get to see the same towns and sites that we would have seen if we had stuck to the original plan, so too the path God has for us might change based on where we are now and where we have gone. But that doesn’t mean that the new path won’t be just as spectacular as the path He had originally set for us. And He will give us the ability along the way to bring Glory to Him through what has happened and to help others going through things similar to what we’ve been through along the way.

The important thing for us to remember is that no matter how far off-track we have gotten with the plans God has for our lives, we can always turn back to Him. When we repent of our sin and turn our hearts back to God, He will, as in the story of the prodigal son, see us returning to Him from far off and run to meet us, throw His arms around us, and embrace us.