Trains fascinate me. I never cease to marvel at the way railways are able to keep trains moving in both directions, using only a single track. Single track working relies on a series of loops in which one train can be held, while another travelling in the opposite direction, passes it. Of course, modern computers make it much easier to “keep track” of them. But when one goods train can have four locomotives and 70 freight cars, it must really test the system.
Nevertheless, the system can prove frustrating for impatient travellers. On one occasion, our express was moving along quite well, on a single track, until quite suddenly we came to a stop. It was dead of night and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We sat there, motionless, in what seemed to be black empty space, waiting. Then it came, another express travelling in the opposite direction. With a great roar and a flicker of lights, it flashed past us before disappearing into the night once again. Now we knew why we were stuck in the side loop. As that speeding train flashed past us, I was very grateful indeed to be sitting in the side loop.
Sometimes in life we find ourselves in a side loop situation, just sitting, going nowhere. Most find the waiting very difficult. We impatient humans seem to want to be always on the move, but there are times when we come to a complete standstill, going nowhere, uncertain about our future direction. Yet I am sure that God puts us into a side loop for good reason. For one thing, we learn patience. There is not much else we can do but wait. For impatient people such as myself, we need to learn how to wait quietly for the future to unfold. We may have been rushing headlong into a disastrous situation. The temporary “on hold” has not only prevented certain disaster but provided a much needed opportunity to review our position. Time has an incredible knack of sorting things out! Rather than complain about “being stuck” or “going nowhere” (such as during a Covid lockdown), we should welcome these enforced opportunities to review our current progress and status. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our lifestyle and recalibrate our values. The Prophet Isaiah recognised that “in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isa. 30:15). Times out for review and reflection are vital in ensuring a safe journey through life. You never know, we may avoid making some very serious mistakes! Side loops are necessary stages along the journey.