By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

The Joy of the Obstacle-Filled Journey

I sometimes imagine my life as a journey on a physical road, marked with a large signpost that reads “God’s Way.” I think — hope — that I’m headed the right way, and a smooth path and clear skies would seem to confirm that.

But what about when a hurricane hits, or a sinkhole appears, or the road is covered with broken glass? Could I still be following God’s way?

My first, instinctive response is No. This must be a sign that I’m headed the wrong direction. These obstacles are God’s method of telling me to turn around.

There’s an alluring logic to this perspective, one I often fall prey to. Obedience leads to a smooth and easy path, full of open doors and helpful travel companions; missteps, in contrast, beget hardship, failure, and pain.

But as much as I may wish this to be true, it’s not what God promises us. The New Testament is filled with warnings from Jesus and his apostles about the challenges that await us when we follow him. It is a path of sacrifice, of persecution, of the very laying down of our lives. That’s pretty much as far from smooth and easy as it gets.

Between my husband’s entrepreneurial career and my writing pursuits, our family has had its fair share of uphill climbing. Cumulatively, the number of rejections we have received from investors, publishers, and others has climbed into the triple digits. My husband has been told by venture capitalists that his business was doomed to fail; I have been told by editors that a written work I spent years crafting was half-baked or read like a first draft. We have had our respective moments of despair, of worrying that the call God had placed on our hearts was about to be crushed by external forces.

In those moments I often want to ask God where he is. If this is his will, why is it so hard? Why doesn’t he make it easier for us?

I was pondering these questions recently when my husband challenged me to consider what I was really asking for. An easy path, in which everything I think God wants for me simply falls into my lap, is not without its own dangers — especially to my heart and my character. The person who faces no obstacles is susceptible to pride and a sense of entitlement. The person who does not know suffering also does not know gratitude or empathy. The person who does not experience hardship has no opportunity to embody the perseverance, character, and hope that Paul writes about in Romans 5.

Smooth and easy actually isn’t God’s desire for us. Easy doesn’t change or transform us. Easy doesn’t grow our faith. Easy doesn’t bring us closer to him. Easy doesn’t allow us to become the people of courage and conviction that God wants us to be.

But I don’t think that God is out to make us suffer just for the sake of suffering either. I believe God is in the business of showing us that the impossible can be possible — but only with him.

I heard some friends reflect recently on the many obstacles they faced when they opened up a small business. So many things went wrong that they often wondered if this was what God wanted. But they persevered, and now, twelve years later, the business is thriving. Recently they approached their city to apply for permits to make some changes to the building. Only then did the city staff realize that, twelve years earlier, an obscure regulation that would have made it impossible for my friends to purchase the building had been completely overlooked. It’s far too late for the requirement to be enforced now, so their business will continue going. “It’s like God closed their eyes all those years ago,” my friend marveled.

Their story reminds me that, despite what we may think, God is actually in partnership with us in removing obstacles. He takes on the enormous, show-stopping challenges that we often don’t even realize exist, clearing the path for us to take our next step of faith. In turn, we are left to face the obstacles that challenge us to persevere and to seek God — and that allow us to fully celebrate with joy and gratitude when something good happens.

By numerous accounts, my husband’s business shouldn’t even exist today. For many perfectly good reasons, I shouldn’t be a writer. But here we are, after years of facing difficulties and naysayers. And through it all, we have seen God’s power in awesome ways. We have experienced his rescue, his provision, and his goodness. We have clearly seen our weaknesses, but we’ve also come to understand the strengths we didn’t know we had. We treasure every opportunity we have been given and praise God for every milestone we have achieved. None of these experiences would have been part of our story if the way had been easy.

It can be tiring, staying on the narrow path of God’s way, battling hurricanes and sinkholes and other obstacles. But how exhilarating it is to walk alongside God as he changes our hearts and makes the impossible possible.

About the Author
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer and leader whose work with various nonprofits, social enterprises, and faith-based organizations has given her opportunity to engage with a broad range of social issues toward solutions in the areas of homelessness, affordable housing, energy access, youth leadership, HIV/AIDS, and international development. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her social entrepreneur husband and two young sons.
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