Posted originally on the CTH on April 30, 2023 | Sundance
As I am sometimes able to do, today I printed the prayer thread and took it with me. I light what grandma always called ‘my Jesus candle‘, sit still, then walk quietly through each prayer and request with pause and deliberation.
As I generally do, I also add my own prayers targeting a turmoil that is less specific. There is bludgeoning in the world; there is also manipulation, deception and ultimately evil. I do not like it; I am repulsed by it; and like you I choose to oppose it in every way I am able. This is our ultimate zero-sum battle.
The task completed, I also pondered the changes of the past seven months that surround me. The physical landscape where my youth unfolded, forever changed – much of it erased completely. Then suddenly, for some unknown reason, a thought occurred:
If God told me a secret today that I was not permitted to share; a secret that today was my last day and yet I could not reveal that knowledge, what would I do?
There is a particular clarity of life, a clarity to purpose, that seemingly happens when we put a clock on our endeavors.
Generally, we ignore the clock, abiding to life is much easier that way, and, truthfully, I do not believe there is value focusing on something we do not control. However, while we do not control the countdown – we do control every choice we make within it. Thus, the question holds merit, ‘What would I do?‘
If we accept that we can create something, perhaps make it just a little bit better by making a choice, then we have accomplished something; perhaps much bigger than we imagine. It is a fundamental truth in life that if we change the way we look at something, then what we look at changes.
We always have choices.
I have long felt that life is like a series of links in a chain. You might be driving down the road and you hear a song on the radio, or see a picture, and you feel a memory….
Something triggers within you that reminds of a different time and place than where you are right now.
The memories you consider remind you of a totally different time in your life.
Perhaps you lived in a different place. Perhaps you were surrounded by different people. Perhaps a different job or completely different friends. You recognize those memories were constructed like frozen moments in time. They became individual links in the chain in your life.
We never actually realize, in the immediate moment, when one link closes and another link begins. But when we look back, we can clearly see distinct points where things changed, the link closed, and a new link began.
You see, the links are only visible in reflection.
As we reflect, we find parts of the chain in our life where each link closes and connects with the other. A beginning, and an end. At the point where the links are joined, we carry parts of the previous link forward to the next.
For many people those connections are bonded by family, or very strong lifelong relationships. Connections which continue beyond our geographic moments, jobs or temporary acquaintances.
But for everyone, the primary bonding agent brought forward from one link to the next is us, our center, our values and core principles. Our beliefs.
The strength of the steel which comprises the links of our life is forged in the fire of adversity, weakness, challenge, pain, loss, and painful growth. The steel is then cooled with the tears of triumph, hurdles overcome and resolve.
The forging makes the steel stronger and able to withstand the pressures that accompany the additional length. Slowly the chain becomes wiser as it lengthens. Able to reach further, form more significant benefits and become more useful.
Hope replaces fear. Love replaces loneliness. Success replaces adversity. These are successful links began and finished while contributing to the whole.
At times we may manipulate the links with avoidance. We hide from -or choose to avoid- an issue in our effort to begin a new link before the old one was naturally, and spiritually, prepared to be closed.
Eventually, as life continues and the chain lengthens, the weak link can fracture, and we are forced to revisit/repair what we originally chose to avoid.
You see, in life we cannot control the universal laws that guide us. So, if we manipulate circumstances to avoid confronting our own weakness, we cannot fully strengthen our life of links. Eventually, the weakness of our past will impact our future.
So, what principles do we carry from link to link? What core values and beliefs stay with us throughout the journey of our lives? The answers to these questions are what makes us human spiritual beings.
We possess freewill able to make choices about what we do, and how we define our individual humanity; but can we then define ’right’ and ‘wrong’ according to our individual principles? Or are there principles that exceed our influence and definition?
Are there natural laws of right and wrong, good and bad, that cannot be subjected to the determination of man?
These are the bigger questions, perhaps the more important questions; and yet, perhaps the ones we reflect upon the least.
Consider the example of the ‘Law of the farm’ vs. the ‘Law of the School’. Natural principles vs. those made by man.
A student can skip class, take few notes, pay only half attention, then stay up all night cramming for a test and manage a decent grade. It depends on the student’s goal: grades or learning.
The student can choose to manipulate the education, by avoiding the learning and capturing the grade. This is possible in the ‘Law of the School’.
However, a farmer cannot take short cuts. A farmer cannot avoid tending to the soil, preparing the seed, fertilizing and nurturing the crop, and still gain the benefit of an abundant harvest.
The farmer must necessarily do all of the appropriate work in order to benefit from it. Such is the ‘Law of the Farm’, the natural law.
When one considers the weakness remaining within a poorly constructed and manipulated link, perhaps established by selfish choices and driven by avoidance and fear, one can be faithfully assured those who have dealt dishonestly with us will have to visit the issues of their association again.
Conversely, no amount of manipulation or avoidance on our own behalf is going to improve the frailty of any link without first resolving the lack of character which created the weakness.
So, we have choices in our lives. Decisions we each make regarding how we interact and participate in the lives and links of others, as well as how we choose to construct the links that comprise our own lives.
Do we base our sense of purpose around natural principles? Principles based on natural laws of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies. Do we forge strong links by following our heart, our values?
If we can interact with others absent of a prideful self-driven agenda, or manipulative intent, we can then apply such principles and strength to our endeavors.
If we protect the integrity of the soil upon which we build the foundation of our lives, we can live without regret.
If we fertilize and cherish our crop, and the crop of our neighbor, with honesty and sincere appreciation for the souls we meet along our chosen path, we will live a life of abundance.
If we tend carefully to the consideration of everyone, yet holding true to our values and principles, we can strengthen ourselves amid the face of adversity and disenchantment.
If we do not hide from, nor ignore our individual and collective faults, we can build the chain of our life with strength, humility, and purpose.
This context returns me to my original thought:
…If God told me a secret today that I was not permitted to share; a secret that today was my last day and yet I could not reveal that knowledge, what would I do?
I realized I would want to SHOUT a message.
I would want each of you to know how much I cherish and appreciate you.
I would want you, the specific and unique person reading this message, to know that you matter in this grand experience of life.
I would want you to know at the essential core and fiber of your being, that you are of great value to those around you; that you have given more than you have taken; that you have deposited far more than you could ever withdraw.
I would want every intersection of my life to know that I am thankful, blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude.
If today was my last day, I would want to send this message with great deliberateness, urgency and love…. And so I have!
Today is not our last day, but I thank our God for this reminder. Act like it might be!
Abiding love to all.
…”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”.
~ Robert Frost