God is like Google Maps, only better

Both use different voices to convey helpful suggestions, such as ‘make a U-turn right now’

By George Valadie

It’s been a crazy few weeks on the road to be sure. After months of anticipation, our oldest daughter and I got to travel to and through southwest Ireland and along its Atlantic coast, a trip that also included an unexpected 12 hours in Paris—more commonly referred to as a “travel delay.”

We did receive $50 each for our 12-hour layover, though it didn’t quite cover the train and cab fares we spent taking in the City of Light.

We returned to the states in time for my wife, Nancy, and I to make a quick drive to Birmingham, where I had the opportunity to speak to 400-plus Catholic school teachers.

We followed that with an unplanned and as it turned out unwanted trip to Nashville to consult with her orthopedic surgeon. The last time we had seen him, he was wishing us well after inserting an assortment of plates, pins, and screws in her right foot.

It was our hope—and his—that we’d never see the man again, at least not professionally.

But here we were. Turned out to be neither disastrous nor tragic, but a staph infection had made its way from the surface of her foot down to the metal plate now residing inside.

And that’s apparently not cool! At all!

“Yeah, that’s not good,” he offered with a look that said more than that. Not exactly what you want to hear from your doctor.

“So what’s next?” we asked.

“I’ve got to get that plate out. And next week’s too long to wait. Let’s get y’all checked in tomorrow.”

“What does that mean for her foot exactly?”

Turns out she won’t miss it at all—the plate I mean, not the foot. The device is apparently no longer necessary, it did its job, the bones have fused.

But getting it out does involve the requisite four weeks of crutches and wheelchairs, ramps and rollers—anything but putting that foot on the ground.

For an extra dose of good measure and double-down protection, they inserted a pic line so she could walk around with an IV antibiotic infusion 24 hours a day. If she doesn’t hang herself on all the tubing, she’ll be good.

But here’s the thing: in all three of these recent journeys, we found ourselves in need of and making use of Google Maps at various points along the way.

It’s an invention that’s become so ubiquitous we don’t even think about it anymore. And it’s hard to imagine life before it or without it.

I can’t tell you the last time I read, much less owned, a real map, but I can tell you this upgrade is a technological lifesaver. There’s no question we’d still be stranded somewhere in the Irish countryside if we’d traveled without it. Some of their roads to which we were directed, like the ones with sheep meandering down the middle, surely have yet to make it on any printed map anywhere.

But an unexpected thought occurred to me when we were on I-24 approaching Nashville. I’m sure many readers have traveled that exact same stretch of interstate highway.

We all know as you get closer to larger cities, the freeways get wider, more lanes, more exits, more loops and signs and cloverleafs.

And as I was attempting to navigate into the correct exit lane, it was at that moment that the thought actually hit me. Our Google voice said, “Stay in the second lane from the right.”

Let me interrupt our journey to say I was recently riding with a friend who was utilizing the same technology. Only his spoke to him with a British accent. You can apparently pick most any flavor … I had no idea! I’m thinking about switching to Australian.

But back to our own trip, the voice said, “Stay in the second lane from the right …”

But what suddenly registered was what she didn’t say. She didn’t say, “Use the second lane from the right …”

No, she said, “Stay in the second lane from the right.” And right then it dawned on me … Google knew exactly where I was at that precise moment.

That’s how it works of course; it’s supposed to follow you, keep an eye on how it’s going, notice things around you (traffic, radar, and such), recalibrate, and suggest a new plan whenever you seem to have gotten off the path that makes the most sense … all to get you exactly where you’re going.

And then I realized what I’d been missing: the Almighty does the exact same thing. He knows exactly where we are every moment of the day. He understands where we’re headed, though he might not always agree, and has complete grasp of our surrounding circumstances and people.

Those that help and those that hinder. And just like Google, he uses all sorts of voices to convey his helpful suggestions.

“You’re doing just great, right on target, you’ll be here before you know it.”

But more frequently, it’s a voice that suggests we may be wandering off course a little bit—or a lot—when we hear “return to route.”

Or worst of all, “I don’t know how you got this lost, but you need to make a U-turn right now.”

What does He sound like? Maybe it’s the pastor delivering Sunday’s homily. Or the Scripture we read just before bed.

Could be the multiple mail requests we receive, asking us to pause and consider if we might share some of what we have. Or it’s seeing the homeless on the corner with a face that’s asking us to consider the same. Some messages arrive silently.

Perhaps it’s the family member or colleague in need of forgiveness. There’s no one actually asking or suggesting we give such; instead it’s a hint we hear in our head with a voice remarkably resembling the conscience He gave each of us.

Every now and again, we hear a warning such as, “This road has tolls.” Basically, there are worse trails we could wander, but purgatory—and payment—await if you stay on this particular path.

“This road may have closures” brings to mind quite a few of my mom’s life lessons. She was right more than I care to admit. I wish I could tell her that.

“This road may have delays.” Delays of our own making no doubt. We should put down the phone and go play catch with our boy or put up the iPad and dine at that tea party with our princess.

My wife desires an old-fashioned conversation about … well, she’d have one about anything if I’d just turn off the game. And what grandma doesn’t long for a visitor of any kind if we can find—or make—the time? We only need look at their faces or listen to their pleas to hear the message He sends.

“Make a darn U-turn—and do it now!” I’d bet my Social Security allowance God has yelled those exact words. At me for sure, maybe you, too.

There are addictive disasters caused by alcohol, drugs, and pornography, the sort that shut down our senses and obscure His voice.

Sadly, others are the lost who dwell mired inside themselves—the unfaithful, the ungrateful, the irresponsible. But equally in need of a turnabout in direction.

What does God sound like? He sounds like the doctor who says we must do this now. He sounds like people we love and some we don’t. He can sound like the wind of Mother Nature. The whimperings of a pet. Words on a page. The touch of a spouse. The smell of a Christmas tree.

For the God who is all things, He can do all things, He can use all things. We just have to listen.

God is just like Google Maps, only better!

Dear God—There is need to get around down here. And there is the real journey to get up there. Help us hear what matters. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga and author of the newly released “We Lost Our Fifth Fork … and other moments when we need some perspective.”

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