When searching for your path in life, it can be difficult to know when you have wandered onto someone else’s private property. Perhaps you’ve accidentally stumbled into the back of a government facility and you didn’t realize it. This is metaphor, of course, but it’s pretty easy to go the wrong way and not know you’re going the wrong way. I am 40 years old and I just figured out that my path was the wrong one about 2 years ago. However, I admit that I had a really strong feeling that I was going down someone else’s path for most of my life.
I can only describe what I felt as being forced to write with the non-dominant hand and make the calligraphy perfect. It wasn’t going to happen. I can imagine that any person unfortunate enough to lose the use of their dominant hand or lose it completely might, with practice, find that their handwriting becomes good enough to be compared to what once was. Speaking metaphorically once again, my handwriting was always poor with what I know was my dominant hand and so the task became figuring out why. Was I writing with someone else’s pen? How can I feel so very uncomfortable and be so confused about where I belong when this normally simple tool has become such an impediment? Why did the language I heard in my brain never show up looking or sounding the same once it was written down?
Life is hard.
I will never forget the day I started listening to what God was saying. And yes, this blog is about God. It is about those experiences that shape my point of view and my relationship with the divine. (If that makes you feel awkward then you have two choices: Keep reading or click that little X at the top of the page. Either way, you’ll need to be able to handle the choice you make. Words cannot be un-read.)
The day I heard the message for the first time was actually a middle of the night experience of phenomenal significance. I wouldn’t know that for some time but hindsight certainly is 20/20. I was sound asleep and was woken by a crash as loud as thunder inside my head. I didn’t realize it was inside me and I thought others in the house must have heard what I had heard, so I went rushing out of my room and around the house, frantically trying to gauge what it was that had happened. The sound was like combining the explosive power of a lightning strike (which I’d once been less than 100 feet from during a storm so I have seen and heard its impact–it quite literally is deafening) and the sound that comes from a power transformer when lines are arcing from the weight of ice or a tree branch. Both are enormously loud by themselves. Combine them and it’s like a nuclear bomb inside the brain.
When I found that no one else in the house was awake and none of them had heard what I had heard, I went back to bed. As I was laying back down, confused but thinking about how this sound must have been in a dream, a message came to me. It was a thought, but not just “a thought”. I know that sounds dumb but I don’t have any other way to say it. It was clear and precise and sharp and it was not in my voice. It told me, “You know what to do now.” I said out loud in the dark to no one, I think it’s time I did something about it. Then I laid back down in bed like nothing had happened. In truth, everything had changed.
That wasn’t the last time my life would turn on a dime, and it wasn’t the last time that a voice would speak to me and push me down the narrow path and through the narrow gate. That first moment of change I experienced was only the beginning. Life has taken me to incredible places I hadn’t imagined I could be and awful spaces I would never have wished for my worst enemy. One difficulty with change is that we don’t always know it’s happening. Sometimes we can affect change without wanting to or without trying to. Sometimes we struggle with it when faced with pressure to conform or create change when we don’t know where to begin. Facing a hallway of a million closed doors and being expected to know which one to open and walk through is perhaps a perfect description for what life feels like sometimes. At other times, the hallway is on fire and there is only one door in front of us to go through. We can’t go back because of the smoke and the flames and so moving forward through that doorway is the only exit we can see to use. It might be just as unsafe as running backward into the fire but the instinct for self-preservation can make us flee toward things that are scary but “not as scary” as the idea of being burned alive. Starting from scratch after all the doors have burned down and we need a whole new path to follow takes the wind out of your sails, but it isn’t an impossible task even when it feels that way.
Look, I know I am late to the game. I am a grown adult with a full time job who is trying to go to college and make a new life. I am searching and seeking and attempting to create something out of nothing. All I have are my thoughts and my perseverance to sustain my momentum. Except…
Jesus said the gate is narrow. He said it’s hard to find. He said it’s not a path that’s often traveled. [Matthew 7:13-14] But he never said it was impossible. He didn’t say no one could find it. He didn’t say no one could enter once they got to that gate. And he didn’t say that no one would be able to navigate the path due to it being so narrow.
What Jesus did say in other places in the bible is all too often used against us. I want to look at two words. I’m sure they will be familiar to you but I really don’t think you know what they mean. Warning–this might blow your mind. I know it did that to mine.
Sin. What is it?
It’s an archery term. Yes, the bible references archery. Why? Because the entire thing was written in ways that the people living 2000+ years ago would understand. They lived as farmers or bakers or masons or clergy or soldiers or slaves. Did I miss anything? There weren’t a lot of choices. And women? Well, they had no choices. You followed in the footsteps of your father or mother and you did what they did. Now, if you hunted or you were a soldier, you knew what the word sin meant: To miss the mark. Your arrow went into the trees above the target and so you were said to have sinned. You missed the target and need to adjust your bow or your aim to get it right. Sinning was not a deadly thing unless your enemy had better aim or a more powerful bow. Beating him to the draw and realizing your errors could be what kept you alive in a battle because with practice and adjustment, you had the upper hand.
Repent. What is it?
To turn away. It’s so simple. People think it means to turn towards God but not quite. Sometimes, repenting turns you towards God. Sometimes it won’t because sometimes you’ll turn toward something and change your mind, and when you turn away it means you’re going the wrong way. In turning around the wrong way, you have sinned. You are missing the mark. You need to adjust your aim.
I believe that simply by understanding a few words and the ways in which they are really used, the Christian viewpoint gains a whole new momentum and perspective. We can spend all day worrying about how sinful we are and spinning in circles trying to repent just right. Or we can walk down the narrow path and keep going. Keep walking. Once we find the path, we just need to stay on it. Jesus made that pretty clear. Why do we keep marching off on our own, not following the path? Why do we humans insist on being independent and end up off in the woods without a compass or a clue? And what do we do when we get to that point? We cry out to the Lord and ask him to help us, to guide us back to the narrow path, to take us in his arms and shine a light on our sin–show us where we missed the mark.
This, my friends, is why Jesus said the path is hard to find. It’s not because it’s invisible or off the grid in some strange place. It’s because we wander. We lose our way. We sin and repent in circles. So Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” [John 14:6] If we follow him, our path is lit. Knowing the meaning of those two little words opens up a whole new world! Jesus said, Please follow me. I know the way because I made it for you. Let me be the one to show you where it is and where it goes. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. All are welcome on this path. Stop spinning. The reason you couldn’t find your way was that the message has been too messy but I am here to make it easy again. I am here to show you how to move along the path without dashing your foot on a stone. I am here to lift you up and make the path as straight as I can. And I will walk with you the whole way so that the light will shine and never die out.
If your mind is blown, then you are where I have been for the last couple of years! I am absolutely and completely enthralled with the story of this man, Jesus of Nazareth. I understand why his simple life message has been so enduring, why it drew so many people to him, and why it was such a threat to the complicated and convoluted message that the Jewish faith had become.
Let us not get stuck in a rut and continue to make this message into something that spins us in circles. Life is already difficult enough.
Image Source: http://www.dunenovels.com/articles/last-mountain-climbs-season?page=3