THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 61
Sowers and reapers
Its true of all living – it is the imprint of time on personality. As children, as youth, as emerging adults. As lovers, as spouses, as parents. As workers, as community members – all the time we are being imprinted by our choices.
Every response we make to other people, to situations in our lives, to our own bodily and mental desires, to our feelings. Daily, hourly, minute-by-minute we are forming our character, our future, our very selves.
Nothing wrong with that! But we need to have a care, realise what we are about. Your first shot of heroin will have repercussions on the rest of your life. Likewise the first time you commit adultery, the first time you give a generous gift to a charity that touched your heart, have your first baby.
Every situation we enter calls for choices, and every choice we make moulds us.
Well, so what? Life is for living isn’t it? Experience can only be obtained by experiences.
Well, only this: maybe you should take time out sometime to think through what sort of person you want to become.
Do you really want to go down the heroin route? Do you really want a husband and family? Do you really want to become like Jesus? And are these desires you have strong or weak things? Are they perhaps merely vague wishes?
If our vague desires and aims for our lives are simply inherited from our parents or some other influence in childhood, then they will gradually fade and weaken over time. And what will happen then? Then we are left to be moulded by the casual decisions, taken day by day. Living life by the moment. We may buy a car, or a pony or a hang glider, and the inevitable consequence will be that our life, for a time, is shaped by that activity.
If, instead, you set an aim for your life – and it can happen at any stage from childhood to old age – you enter a journey. The Christian is one who has such an aim. The Christian is on such a journey. It may be hazy in his mind to start with – perhaps nothing more than a decision to ‘be a Christian’ or ‘to follow Christ’. But it is a choice – a decision – a definite setting of a target, a direction to travel.
From that moment on all life becomes a pilgrimage, even though that might not be what the person calls it. It may not seem that much has happened in their life at all. But a direction has been set. And later on that decision will be remembered in the quiet, and the person will revisit the idea. They will remember how, after that aim was formed, a sense of purpose seemed to infuse their life.
Other purposes will, of course, intervene. Becoming the man your father wanted you to be, or getting the job you have always wanted, or proving yourself to someone else or to yourself – all these or a thousand other aims may intervene and take precedence. But sooner or later an echo from that first decision to go on the Christian journey comes back and is remembered. And when it is remembered, one also recalls the tremendous sense of rightness that it gave you. A sense of being on the right path, going in the right direction with your life.
And so we turn again to that aspect of our life, only to discover, astonishingly, that all the things that intervened and which seemed to us to be diversions, were, in fact, part of the journey.
You thought you had forfeited all your religious inclinations when you had that affair last summer. Or when you started to gamble seriously five years ago, or when you married that girl you fancied, and settled down to raise a family. Or when you decided that there was no other way for you than accepting that you were gay and then, coming to terms with that in your life, left your opposing church. Or perhaps when you sacrificed every ideal you ever had in order to succeed in business.
But now you find that, despite all those things, deep down beneath all that has been going on, there is still this hankering for the spiritual, for the Christian way. That there is still a desire to test out whether you can find the peace of God. Still a yearning for the spiritual.
What sort of things help us in this quest for the spiritual? A sunset – the peace of it? A sunrise – with all its potential? A kind act given or received? A smile? A hand on the shoulder at a bad time? Real laughter? The haunting melody of some music?
These are the sorts of things that sometimes reawaken our sense of pilgrimage – our acceptance that we really must be on a journey God-ward. And suddenly we see that, despite the twists and turns of our past life, we have been on that journey all through our days. That the twists and turns were part of that journey.
What hinders this sense of journey? Self indulgence, whatever form it takes! Fear – of almost anything! Of the past catching up with us or the future bearing down on us! Fear of people, fear of failure, fear of exposure! So many fears! Where do they all come from? From the dark recesses of our souls. And they can only be dispelled by the penetrating light of God.
No psychotherapy, acupuncture, Zen koan or shot of drugs can permanently remove our innermost fears. Why not? Because, behind the fears there is the tendency to fear, which is rooted in our lostness. Being on this journey means we are no longer lost - we have direction and purpose.
This journey – this pilgrimage – is it hard work? Our inner puritan would love to make it so – all early rising and self-abnegation. But although the road can be tough at times, in reality there is little hard work involved. Its all been done for us. Just the road to travel.
Are we happy? Yes, because we have a road to travel and a purpose; aimlessness is the abiding burden of lost souls. ‘The devil will find work for idle hands’ – never a truer word spoken! All we need is a path and a sense of direction.
So how do folks step onto this road that is so wonderful? Is it hard to find, difficult to get onto?
It’s never far from anyone, if you want to find it.
Of course, if you are looking for an excuse not to find it, then it is almost impossible to get onto it! It seems to slip out of view and be quite undiscoverable.
But why do so many express real problems in finding this good road? Because they don’t really want to find it! They don’t desperately desire it. Not to the extent that they would sell all they had to buy the field with the pearl in it. Not so as to search with all their heart. Only people who really want to find the road seem to get on it.
But, in truth, it is for everyone and anyone. Next time a sunset stirs you by its beauty, or a sacrificial act by someone touches you, or you hear music from afar – don’t delay. Start looking around – searching even – for the road, and step onto it.
You may find you need to drop some of the things you are carrying. Most of us do. But that is not a problem, because the really deep satisfaction of travelling along the good road surpasses all others.
Don’t be surprised by your fellow travellers. Some of them seem to be very strange types. Not like you or me at all. Some are still looking back as if regretting what they have left behind. Some strain forward as if by their efforts they can arrive at journey’s end tonight.
Most walk slowly along, learning to talk the talk and walk the walk with their fellow travellers. Is there any reason why they should all be alike? The only common factor, apart from being human, is that they are on the road together.
Take time to encourage your fellow travellers, no matter how different they are from you. You may experience stretches of the road that seem steep or rocky yourself later – give them a hand when you can. Encourage them. Share the good news about the good road. Try sharing their load – for we all carry baggage from the past, and for some the load is grievous and heavy. Mostly, as one travels, the burdens seem to grow lighter and eventually drop off.
The road winds forward and we can never see beyond the next bend. There will be some big surprises in store! But we can be sure of this: journey’s end will be a home-coming, when we will be received with love and understanding. That makes the whole journey worthwhile.