Feeling miserable after a week of making poor choices and enduring lectures from my parents, I went to visit my grandfather. Flopping down on his front porch, I rested my chin on the palms of my hands and wondered how a kid as young as I was could get into so much trouble.
Noticing how sad I looked, my grandfather sat down beside me. “Jeffery,” he said, “I think it’s time we went fishing.”
Early the next morning we were on the lake in his boat. “Granddad, how do you do it?” I asked. “How do you always make the right choices? I’ve never seen you lose your temper or make any of the mistakes I do.”
Granddad pulled a silver compass out of his pocket and laid it on the seat between us. “I’ve made my share of mistakes, Jeff, but when I was sixteen, I learned a valuable lesson, and this compass was part of it. I carry it with me all the time because it reminds me to check my other compass to make sure that what I’m doing is right.”
“You carry two compasses with you?”
“Yup. They remind me of the day I used them both and barely escaped death, anyway.”
“Escaped death? What happened?”
“Well, it all started when my brother and I went with our father to a cattle auction thirty miles from home. We went by horseback and only planned to be gone a few days, but my father soon realized we’d need to be away longer. He was afraid that Mother would worry, so he asked me to head home the next day.
“I told him that I’d go but was nervous about going alone. He put his strong, work-worn hands on my shoulders and said, ‘Jonathan, you can use a compass as well as any man I know. You’ll be just fine.’
“Early the next day I started homeward, and by the time I made camp that night, I felt foolish about being so nervous. I was more than halfway home, and nothing had gone wrong.
“The following morning, as I got ready to leave, I thought about the delicious homemade rolls my mother baked every Thursday. I could imagine the steam rising from them as she took them out of the oven. I was so busy thinking about those rolls that I didn’t notice how large and gray the clouds were getting. It wasn’t until a sharp wind blew through my jacket that I realized I was heading right into a storm.
“The longer I rode, the bigger and blacker the clouds became, until it looked like I could reach up and touch them. When the storm broke, it wasn’t too bad. I figured if it didn’t get any worse, I’d make it home with no problem, and I started to relax.
“Just then, a loud roar sounded in my ears, and sheets of ice and snow hit me so hard I was nearly swept out of my saddle. I knew that if my horse and I were going to survive, I had to get us to safety quickly, The problem was that I didn’t know how to do it. We were in the middle of nowhere, and the snow was coming down so hard I could barely see my horse’s head.
“That’s when I started using my second compass, Jeff. The one that’s in here.” he tapped his chest. “I’d tried using it before, but not like I tried then. This was an emergency, and I needed the Lord’s help right away.”
A cold shiver passed through me as I asked Granddad what he did next.
“I reined in my horse, bowed my head, and offered a heartfelt prayer. I asked the Lord to spare my life and to help me find a way out of the storm.
“We moved forward again, straining against the icy wind until my horse refused to go any farther. I got down, took the reins in my hands, and began walking. Five steps later, I ran into a fence.
“I felt impressed to find out where it led, so I tied my horse to a fence post and walked until I came to a shed. Working my way around to the front, I opened the door and found a small herd of sheep. Generally I don’t care for the smell of sheep, and bunking down with them sure wasn’t what I had in mind when I prayed. But I knew that the Lord had answered my prayer, and I was truly grateful.
“Going back for my horse, I led him into the shed and made him as comfortable as possible. Then I waded right into the middle of those sheep. Fortunately someone had just put a new batch of straw down, and it was dry and warm.”
Laughing, I asked Granddad if he thought the sheep minded him climbing into the middle of them.
“They weren’t exactly pleased about it. In fact, they made it real hard for me to wedge my way in,” Granddad said with a chuckle. “But I kept pushing and pulling, and pretty soon I had enough room to lie down.”
“How long did you stay there? Were you able to keep warm? Did you go to sleep? Did—”
“Whoa, Jeff,” Granddad said. “Give me a chance to answer. I’m not sure how long I was there. I slept so soundly that I didn’t wake up until the sheep started moving around the next morning.
“Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I jumped up, thanked them for keeping me warm, and led my horse out of the shed. Three hours later I arrived home, safe and sound.”
“Wow, Granddad, that was some experience!”
“It sure was, Jeff, and it taught me a lifelong lesson. When I can no longer see where my pocket compass is leading me, I can still head in the right direction. I just have to let my inner compass guide me.”
“But how do you know when it’s working?”
“You know it’s working when you get a feeling that something is right or wrong. If you feel right about your choice, you know you’re following in the direction your inner compass is pointing. If you feel uncomfortable or miserable about your choice, you know you’re going in the wrong direction.”
“Thanks, Granddad,” I said, “I’m going to start using my inner compass right away.”