The Last to Know
More than four years have passed since the last entry in this digital "journal" of musings from along The Road that my best friend and I began calling the Warrior's Path nearly a decade ago. Recently we have received a few messages from some far-flung corners of the globe - some old friends of the original blog - wondering where we are at, lamenting how they miss those old words of encouragement. So for their sake, for ALL our old allies, and for the sake of a new generation of questing souls, we decided it was time to break the silence...
A few months ago David sent me an inspiring quotation in a text message (we pass old quotes back and forth via text from people like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Spurgeon, John Eldredge, etc. on a pretty consistent basis). I don't remember now exactly what the quote was, but I clearly remember that the words on this occasion rang so deeply true for me, that I quite literally found myself stunned, stopped short, taken out of myself - out of my current life that is - and drawn back to an earlier time: a time of great hopes, holy enthusiasms and heroic longings. I felt that whichever of our spiritual mentors had written these words must have been steeped in a wisdom I could only dream of attaining some day. I felt called out, humbled, and encouraged all at the same time. The words came from the sort of place that I longed to attain to.
And then, after a pregnant pause, I felt my phone vibrate again. I picked it up off the couch beside me to see David's next text:
"Do you remember when you wrote that?"
And something deep inside me went: Whoa.
And I didn't mean that in a good way. It wasn't a "boy, am I a good writer" kind of a 'whoa'. It was a "I can't imagine I was ever in the place to write about such deep truth with so much faith and hopefulness," kind of a 'whoa'. Which thought was immediately followed by the next logical one: "When did I let all of that slip? When did I get to this place where my own words sound utterly foreign to me, like they were written by someone else?"
When we are young, our lives are marked by pretty much a perpetual state of growth. Throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence we are experiencing a steady increase in every motor skill, intellectual, emotional, and relational capacity. Most obviously of all, year by year our physical bodies become larger, stronger, more mature and capable.
Now we realize that for someone in their thirties, those "growing up" years can feel like ancient history at this point. But you have to remember that almost ALL our education and our deep internal agreements about the nature of our own existence are rooted in these formative years.
And so, deep inside us, in a place that is hard to be adequately uncovered and logically analyzed is this sense that, regardless of our own efforts (or lack thereof), regardless of whether we think we deserve it or not, in spite of all the dips and valleys we might experience in isolated moments, ultimately, ultimately, the overall trend of our lives is towards improvement. Things grow. They just do. It's inevitable. Universal. The inexorable rising, swelling crescendo that all things experience.
Or so we imagine.
And we are wrong.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that regardless what you believe about evolution as a biological theory, the MYTH of universal evolutionary progress as a universal trend that applies to all facets of life and human existence is nothing more than wishful thinking and pure unfounded fabrication.
Simply put, things, systems, organizations, nations, cultures - and most especially individual souls - do not by necessity improve. There is no law, no contract, no magical power that makes an upward trend simply inevitable.
Think about it in terms of your own experience. When you look at the people you have known over the years, are they all the best version of themselves that you have ever known them to be? Would that describe even most of them, enough so to suggest that the outliers who have not continued to grow in maturity, wisdom, goodness, strength, passion and holiness are somehow severely malfunctioning exceptions to the rule?
Other people aside, do you find yourself right now, this very day, to be the best version of yourself you have yet known?
At the risk of being looked at like abject failures unfit for Christian service, let us just confess (I think we've already spilled the beans on this one anyway) that in our own experience life has long appeared to be a tightrope walk between growth and decline. Nor is growth by any means guaranteed to somehow ultimately get the upper hand. (There's the deep seated evolutionary myth sneaking back in again.) The fact is that we, and those around us, are making choices on a daily basis that have long term consequences, for good or for ill.
“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself... Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
It would seem that the stakes are much higher than anyone in "polite Christian circles" would lead us to believe...
And still, the persistent myth that we are older, ergo somehow by necessity wiser, hangs on.
It would seem too obvious for words, but it may be said anyway that we all have an endless supply of defenses and justifications stockpiled against the slightest suggestion that we ourselves have missed a vital turning in the Road somewhere along the way: that we have surrendered some dream, some purpose, some high sentiment, some moral absolute, some good habit, some innocent and trusting frame of mind, that has made us a smaller and poorer soul for the loss of it. And it is because of these instinctive defenses, this incessant need to reframe in the best light possible these less than ideal paths we have chosen, and their resultant impact on our deepest selves, that we so often fail to see what is so obvious to those around us. When it comes to the slow gradual decline, like the proverbial frog in the kettle, we so often are The Last to Know.
Friends, as we say so often in agreement with the words attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. It is an easier life, to be sure. But people walking the Warriors Path don't do easy. As John Eldredge has lamented about our fleshly desire for ease: "We choose the path of least resistance, and that is rarely the correct path to take."
But what, you may reply, is the good of such an examination that is sure to lead us into shame, disappointment, and sorrow over lost time? Well, if there was no hope for recovery, that would be a valid concern worth considering. But there IS hope for recovery, hope for change, hope to regain what was lost, and reawaken what has slumbered in ashes for too long. There is hope not only of regaining the heights of our earlier devotion, passion, clarity of purpose and vision -- but of pressing on from there to peaks beyond even the scope of our present vision.
We invite you to begin taking back the lost ground today. Do it now. Find some old journals; review some past conversations with God; revisit some of your youthful dreams for a glorious, purposeful life; reread the books (or blog posts!) that once inspired you.
Sometimes - often - to move forward, we must first go back...