Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stepping off Easy Street

This past Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday, so of course we read the 23rd Psalm in church, hearing once again those reassuring lines:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

I think we've all been in that valley at various times in our lives, and it can seem, no matter how deeply this psalm is planted in us, like a very lonely place. One of the most difficult aspects of those valleys is this: what are we supposed to do with the hard stuff? How do we cope, and what hard choices will we need to make? And the choices -- what if they appear to go against everything we've been taught is right? What if we have to stop turning the other cheek?

If, as Eckhart Tolle says, we have three options for dealing with what life throws us -- acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm -- then what are we supposed to do with these difficult challenges? Obviously in such cases enjoyment and enthusiasm are out (unless, of course, you're a drama queen or a masochist). Does that mean we have to just roll over and accept everything life throws us? Are we doomed to be doormats?

And then I thought of that old serenity prayer (my first mother-in-law gave me this prayer on a plaque when I was first married):

God grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I know. It's trite. But it's always good to remember that sayings that have been around forever may have that longevity because they have some truth. So how would this saying apply when enjoyment and enthusiasm aren't viable options? I'm wondering if acceptance doesn't mean just lying down and taking it, but rather accepting that occasionally there will be stretches on our path that are very hard to walk. And the difficulty of that walk may not just be the circumstances that have afflicted us, but the choices and steps that WE have to take to resolve those circumstances and move forward.

For some reason, as I was mulling all this over, this rather hokey old song from my Baptist grandmother's record player came into my head:

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial,
You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you,
You have to stand it by yourself.

Sometimes the trial we have to stand is not the situation itself, but gathering up the courage to change the situation, to stand up for ourselves or for others who are being treated unfairly, or to extricate ourselves altogether. And I think the acceptance Tolle describes is not just putting up with life, but rather acceptance of our own active role in taking whatever steps are required to keep moving forward; to keep becoming whatever it is we are called to become.

Because the fact is, we don't always get to live on Easy Street. Sometimes we have to make hard choices, step off the obvious path, and follow Jesus into the Valley. The walk may be a long one, and we may not be able to see to the end of the road; it may seem to stretch on forever, a discouraging and never-ending trudge into some unknown and possibly more difficult future.

Faced with that, Easy Street, however unpleasant it may be, is at least not a lonely place, and so looks awfully appealing. But I think that if we can't enjoy it, or be enthusiastic about it, then maybe we need to accept that, for the forseeable future, Easy Street may not be the street we are called to walk.

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