When Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, it was sometimes necessary to fire the engines of either the Lunar Module or the Service Module to alter direction. These “burns” included, on both the outbound and inbound journeys, significant midcourse corrections. Even before launch, which went off without a hitch, mission control knew that at least one major course correction, and possibly as many as four, would be necessary for each leg of the journey.
It turned out that only one major correction was needed. Had Apollo 11 not made that correction, the outbound flight would have missed the moon entirely and been lost in space, and the inbound flight would have missed the earth and suffered the same fate. Smaller corrections were also needed to achieve orbit around the moon and to land the Eagle on its surface.
Course corrections are not only needed on the nearly half-million-mile trip to the moon and back, they are also necessary in the 79-year trip through life that the average person in the United States takes. Course corrections are not an “Oops!” They are not a sign of failure. They are part of the plan from the very beginning. Without them, people end up somewhere they never intended – and do not wish – to be.
Course corrections are not about choosing new destinations. The Apollo mission could not, for example, have decided mid-course to go to Mars. Likewise, a mid-course correction in life is not so much a reinvention as it is a reorientation. We are not changing our values but reaffirming our commitment to them and making the necessary course alterations to remain in line with them.
Sometimes the major course corrections are not as tricky as the minor ones that require greater attention to detail. In my six decades or so on the planet, I have kept a pretty straight course: I fell in love with a girl, got married, and had three sons. There were plenty of minor corrections in orientation that were needed but only one major one.
Both my wife and I intended to serve God overseas, where the need was great and Christian influence was minimal. We went through college with this intention and were in agreement about it when we were engaged and, later, married. The various decisions we made in our early years together were meant to keep us on this course.
The organization with which we hoped to serve gave us some preliminary direction, which we pursued to the best of our ability. From my perspective, we were on course and moving slowly and steadily in the right direction. Then we met with a representative of the organization and he told us plainly, “You’re not who we’re looking for.” It was time for a course correction.
At the recommendation of the mission organization, I was already serving a small church as pastor. It was a role we’d never imagined nor desired but for which, as it turned out, I had some ability. Since this way of serving God and people fit our core values and our giftedness, and since we concluded God was guiding us to it, we made the necessary course correction.
It’s obvious to us when big course corrections are needed. It’s the smaller ones, which are equally important to our success, that are trickiest. For example, I have been a music-lover since childhood, but there’s not a lot of contemporary Christian music I appreciate. Yet we sing such songs in worship because they represent the best medium for many of our church members to worship. Minor course correction required.
I have sometimes become aware that I have been off-course as a father. One such time was when I realized I rarely praised my sons or told them I was proud of them, though I was. Course correction required.
As a husband, I have sometimes been obtuse and insensitive. Course correction required. Such alterations may seem less important than the major course correction that led to a different career but they are not. If anything, they are more important because they involve relationships, which are at the heart of our service to God and are key to the contribution we make to the world.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/8/2018