July 30, 2007
When you come to a fork in the road....Take it
My dear husband loves Yogi Bera and one of his favorite "Yogi-isms" is:
"When you come to a fork in the road....Take it"
This past month, God has placed a fork in my road and it was up to me to choose which path to follow. This is not the first time I have faced a fork in the road because there have been many, many decision-making opportunities during the past 23 years of my married life. Somehow, this fork was different because instead of simply being a choice between "A" and "B", this time the choice was whether or not I would follow the Lord or continue to walk on my own.
I have been walking on my own for a very long time and though my life has been modestly blessed, it is fair to say that my path has not been smooth nor has it been easy. No, my path has been full of rocks and steep inclines and plagued by many twists and turns. At the least it has been interesting; at the most it has been challenging. I am sure there are many people out there who love an interesting challenge and would heartily welcome a journey full of unknowns and unending decisions. For me, I have learned how to deal with a life full of "unknowns" and in truth, it would not be the "way" of my choosing, had I known what I know now (funny how hindsight is always 20/20). I would have chosen something completely different, something far more gentle and calm and peaceful. I would have chosen the easy way, the path of least resistance, the way that offered the best opportunity to experience the most life had to offer me. It has been the "way," of course, and whether I want to admit it or not, I did indeed choose it. I also accepted it as a "normal" part of life. It was just how life was supposed to be. It wasn't until recently that I began to wonder if this "way" of life was really normal, was really ideal. Was this the life of a true believer? Is this what the Lord promised, is this His ideal experience?
After careful consideration and plenty of time on my knees, I realized that there are two "normals" in life: there is the "normal" that comes along with the natural life and then there is the "normal" that comes along with the supernatural life. The natural life or the life before Christ is fraught with stress and frustration because it's dependency is placed squarely upon mortal man. The supernatural life or the life after Christ is a blessed journey rooted firmly and deeply upon dependence and faith in God. I know that many believers, myself included, spend a great deal of "life" living in the natural. Satan feeds our minds and suggests to us that this is the "normal" life of a Christian. Even though the believer is saved by grace, life after Christ is just as Thomas Hobbes suggested: it is nasty, brutish and short. There is no difference between the "before Christ" model and the "after Christ" model. This is not true, of course, but many believers seem to fall into this mindset. Life is meant to be hard. Life is meant to be a struggle. Life is meant to be difficult. Deal with it. Get over it. Just do it.
I honestly believed that this was the case with my life and that no matter how much I wished it were different, the sad truth was that it would never be any different. My life would be difficult and unpleasant and while I could experience "joy" for moment in time, it would be fleeting and not and every day, common experience. C.S. Lewis titled his biography "Surprised by Joy" and in it spoke of how he came to understand this precious and most blessed concept of "joy". Furthermore, he suggested that this "joy" was the "right" or privilege of every believer. He went on to say that this supernatural "joy" didn't happen overnight; no, it came upon him after several years of careful and attentive study in God's word. I read this biography last year, at a point in my life when the last thing I experienced daily was joy. I had absolutely no joy in my life. My life paralleled the sad and desperate sentiment in Wordworth's tender poem:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
Although Wordsworth wrote this poem in rememberance of his deceased daughter, Catherine, there is something hauntingly familiar to his words. How often we look to the long dead past for our remembrance of joy. Joy of happier days. Joy of family and friends. Joy of expectation. Joy of marriage and children. Yes, it often seems we recognize joy only in the past, in our memory, but not in the now and not in our every day existence. Joy is fleeting and is only available to us when we stop and remember the past.
In many ways, my concept of joy was also tied to past experiences and just as Wordsworth recalled that deep seated sense of loss that comes with the passing of a child, I, too looked at distant days and memories of bygone opportunities. Yes, moments of joy, fleeting and interspersed amongst long, dry and very difficult days. As I looked back I only saw missed opportunities. Missed blessings. Missed chances. Missed pathways. Missed choices. My life was spent in daily rehearsal of days gone by. Hurt feelings. Rejection and disappointment. Hopelessness. Failure. When I looked forward, there was no bright future, no shining moment yet to be born. No, my life was up to this point: nasty, brutish, and well on it's way to being very short. I was not "surprised by joy" and I didn't believe that joy, that kind of joy C.S. Lewis experienced would ever be a regular part of my life.
It is interesting how a life-changing episode can refine your perspective and often bring you right back to that "spiritual" fork in the road, the one where you must choose to follow God or to continue to follow your own desires. I think we are constantly facing that very same fork in the road. Daily we are asked to choose our path. Joshua put it this way as he addressed the children of Israel:
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. - Joshua 24:14
Joy is a choice. It is the right of every believer because it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Bible promises us that we can have joy and we can have it in abundance. Our life doesn't have to be mundane, routine, and depressing. Yes, there will be hardship at times and yes, there will be trial and temptation; but joy "inexpressible" can be within the reach of every believer, every day and in every moment of their life.
1 Peter 1:8 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy...."
The lack of joy in one's life is not "normal." The Bible is very clear on this point. The born-again, blood-bought, grace redeemed life is meant to experience joy on a daily, moment by moment basis. It is a bad case of the "normals" to be joyful, to be filled with joy. It is quite the opposite to spend one's day stressed out and out of sorts and depressed over the circumstances in life.
If you are longing for joy and would like to experience it daily as a fresh blessing, a well-spring of nourishing life, then know that you can only find it by taking that spiritual fork in the road, the one always confronting you, the one you see before you each and every day. Take the fork that leads upward, the path that leads you into the arms of the Almighty and into a relationship filled with "joy inexpressible".
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. -John 15:11
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13