“Didn’t he say ‘Sempre dritta.’? This doesn’t seem very straight to me.”
My husband and I were lost in the Italian heartland, headed for a meeting with a client (this was several years ago, when our jobs involved overseas travel). Our GPS led us into someone’s driveway, and when I asked an elderly gentleman for directions, he smiled knowingly and told me to keep going, “Sempre dritta.” (always straight).
Of course that wasn’t possible. There were switch backs, hairpin turns, and dozens of offshoot roads that seemed to follow a straighter course. My American brain wanted “straight” to mean “straight”. But we’d been lost in Italy enough times to know that “dritta” isn’t always about geometry. When it comes to driving, it means “continue on the same road, no matter what.”
Fast forward to last year. We were living in Israel, struggling to find housing for our family. No one would rent to a family of seven for a short term, or agree to a long term lease until we got our papers. For the first time in my life, I packed up everything we owned without knowing where we would sleep that night.
Being unable to answer the kids’ questions or reassure them was traumatic for me as a mom. Minutes before we had to leave our apartment to make room for the next tenant, my husband found another place we could rent…for only 5 nights. We breathed a shallow sigh of relief, knowing we’d have to begin the search all over again as soon as we got settled.
Fast forward again. We’re living in a farmhouse in rural Minnesota. One year to the day after that experience in Israel, we got a call saying we needed to move out as soon as possible. That phone call transported me mentally back to Israel, feeling that same panic and dread again.
That’s the backdrop for my puzzling over these words:
I say puzzling, because this specific Hebrew word for “path” (there are several) has a circular or cyclical aspect to it. It pictures a circular groove that’s been worn over time. Which wouldn’t be so surprising, except this word for “righteousness” also means “straight”. It goes deeper:
This word that we translate “righteousness” (there are multiple Hebrew words for that concept) is צדק, (pronounced (tseh’-dek). The צ represented a person lying hidden on their side. It could also signify the side wall of a fortress. ד represented a door, a tent flap, or the lifting and lowering of the flap to enter and exit the tent. And the ק represents the sun on the horizon, the cycle of rising and setting, or a gathering (the way the light of the sun seems to gather or concentrate at the horizon).
My American brain still wants ‘straight’ to be ‘straight’. It wants righteousness to be evident. But this word for “righteous”, or “straight” suggests cycles. Going out and coming in. Raising and lowering. Circling.
And there’s an aspect of hiddenness. This isn’t the kind of righteousness you get trophies for. It keeps a low profile. With this understanding of these Hebrew terms, we could try out a translation like this:
“He leads me straight, in a circular path, to a hidden side door, again and again, for His name’s sake.”
Suddenly, the path we’ve been on makes sense.
Except for the part about His name’s sake.
After we got the call, I cried out to God, “How is this good for your reputation? Why would you do this to us for the sake of your name?”
I’d been harboring resentment about the way He’s led us. It took Him bringing me full circle, back to the pain, for me to embrace the truth. Staring that pain in the face, I realized He wasn’t leading us that way for His own reputation at our expense. “For His name’s sake” can also mean, “because of who He is”. He leads us this way because He’s the perfect parent. He brought me “back” here so I could go “forward” more whole.
My Israeli brain is beginning to grasp the difference between being stuck in a cycle of futility, and being led in a cycle of increasing healing, understanding, and intimacy (even though they can feel similar). Futility fails to embrace who God is, or join what He’s doing. When God leads, every time we repeat the cycle, it’s new… because we’re new. There’s a depth of maturity we couldn’t access last time around. It’s not a waste of time. My wholeness, your wholeness, it’s worth circling back for.
I’m learning to hear, “Sempre dritta…keep going straight” and understand, “Stay the course, in spite of the twist and turns.”
What twist and turns has God used to reveal Himself to you?