There have been times in my life when I’ve descended to fight the fiercest battles against the past possibilities of my life. It never took much to engage: a family member’s new success; an acquaintance’s marriage or new baby; the news of old friends excelling. It could all send me over the edge because I always seemed to be going nowhere.
So I would turn my weapon and inflict harm on myself—If you had only bought this, not done that, tried harder, moved there, stayed longer, saved more, asserted yourself, learned this, said no, spoke up, imitated him, asked her, agreed to everything, and been a real man, you might be farther up the road, more pleasing to yourself, your people, and your God.
I’d snap from the madness minutes later like a limb in the face. So what if you’re right? I often thought. And what if it is partially true that the way things have turned out for you is not entirely your fault? None of this was the point though. What would that hill of sorrows ever matter? So I’d concede to the apparent: nothing so obvious in a battle.
Perhaps the places we’ve had to pass through in life were not all necessary to get us where we stand. We mess up sometimes. We fail to heed good advice; we become neglectful. It is often the case for many of us that where we are in life is not where we wish we were, but it is certainly better than many conditions in which we could find ourselves. Yet where we are might make it worth taking another look at where we’ve come from.
Look at you—the cuts and bruises, your sweat-soaked head and blood-filled mouth, burning lungs and tired limbs. They all speak wonders of a person who would have welcomed demise not long ago. Somewhere something happened that put armor in your flesh and turned a heart into iron. The double-take reveals that where you stand, in maturity and insight, is light years ahead of where methods would have gotten you by now.
Lightning couldn’t strike a more terrifying revelation in that moment that what-ifs and alternate realities cannot be trusted. Having one’s “ducks in a row” and charting every cent and second of one’s life may require just a pullet feather to topple it all. Moreover, we don’t interview the ones on hospital beds now or in prison now to hear the other half of glamorous, climbing-the-ladder, American Dream stories, the ones that take dramatic detours.
I am not what I do! I am not what I possess! I am not what others think of me! I will not be a pawn of any system!
Sure, some say, this is precisely the argument of someone lamenting his or her failed life, and it’s easy to concede to spiritualities then. But this is no failure or newfound faith. It is merely a second look at what we now understand to be the long way around, a redemptive and awfully appreciable route.
Do not make the mistake of hearing me equate the rat race with normal living and progress, for too often this is what progressiveness gets us, especially in this generation. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24) is so radically inclusive of all the many cares of life in which we foolishly place our trust. I am guilty of it—why else should I share my grief?
I know what it is to put it all on paper only to watch the paper go up in smoke. I know what to tire feels like and understand rough-hewn Peter, captain and fisherman, contesting Christ: “We have been out here all night while you were sleeping. But just this once, at your strange insistence, we’ll launch again” (Luke 5:4-11).
We must trust God. “For he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). We are not forgotten, wherever we find ourselves on this journey. He is closer to us in the process than we perceive.
“’The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:14-16)