Make Level Paths
To their credit, these were basic necessities. It was not as if they were complaining about the sheets being two hundred thread count instead of Egyptian cotton. But, their perspective was severely lacking. They had seen some mindboggling events take place. Someone was taking care of them. Regardless, they were afraid, thirsty and “hangry.” Their perspective was so skewed that they started to think being oppressed slaves with full bellies, was better than free and temporarily hungry.1 This up and down of their emotions went on repeatedly and their lack of trust led to more and more disobedience. As had happened before, God got sick of this nonsense and wondered why He had ever decided to have kids. As the saying goes among parents, “Now we know why some animals eat their young.”2 But, he did not kill them. Instead, he just waited around for a whole generation of the formerly enslaved Israelites to die off so that He could work with the next, hopefully more reasonable one.
Harsh, but parts of all of us need to die.
Nobody likes it. Discipline hurts. It hurts emotionally and relationally. Even when done perfectly, it creates distance and can initially erode trust. With God, it gets even more complicated. Like the Israelites in the desert, even though things have worked out before, we are not sure if they will work out again. So, whether the threat of pain is on the horizon or currently raining down on us, we get scared, feel alone and lose trust. Then there is the confusion. Sometimes it is clear that the pain is our own fault. Our actions led right to it. Other times, we are not sure. Did I do this? Did someone else? Why? How did I get here? Where is God?… all that messy mess that messes with your head and helps nothing.
Sometimes there is an obvious, solid line connecting your actions to your hardships on the flow chart of life. You lied. She dumped you. You were late all the time. You got fired. You had a kid. Your mother-in-law comes to visit you more often. It is not always complicated. But, I have no idea why your child has cancer. I cannot explain why even though you have tried really hard, your life has ended up where you never intended it to be. I do not know if “this” will ever be over. Sometimes we deserve it. Sometimes we do not.
Either way – their fault, your fault, nobody’s fault – your modus operandi should be to endure any hardship as if it were discipline.3 If you are lucky, you have been disciplined properly before and, if you have been around long enough, you can look back and see that it worked out for the best.4 Maybe. That actually depends on you.
The death that takes place in discipline (or hardship endured as if it were discipline) is the risk God takes with us. Discipline can strengthen or injure. It can produce a deep soul dripping with peace, or a wounded one dry and drained. You can end up lame or healed. That part of you can die, or all of you can die.
It depends on which path you walk. One will provide the way through and the other(s) will break your ankles and leave you for dead. One is level. It is wide enough for friends. There are markers along the way. There are occasional shelters and streams where they need to be. Do not get me wrong, this is no “walk in the park.” This is still a hike with a full pack on a cold rainy day. There are still inclines that never seem to end and the worst thing you can do is constantly fill your mind with thoughts about when this is over. You need to just put your head down, accept it and hike.
The other path really is not a path at all. The other path is just you cutting out into the unknown driven by a toxic mix of emotion hoping to find your way out of the woods, hop in your car and drive anywhere else. That trail of discipline? No thank you.
So, you machete your way off the path thinking that you can figure out where to go. The hills still go up and down. It is still cold and rainy and your pack seems like it is getting heavier. But, the holes are hidden by the weeds, there are no shelters and you have seen no sign of a stream. As you walk deeper into the forest, anger and bitterness drives deeper into you. You have no path. Now you are lost.
When you are going through discipline or hardship endured as discipline, you need stability, level paths.5 The journey is arduous enough. The path you choose will determine if you make it through stronger of if you end up lame.
Making a level path is not finding a solution. It is moving forward and enduring as emotionally and spiritually healthy as you possible can. It is never neat. You will be covered in mud. Moving forward, not neatness, is success.
How do you make level paths? Here is some advice shared Sunday by the people of Venture Community:
Start Talking. The confusion of the emotional response that comes so naturally cannot be navigated alone. You must have other perspectives. Yet, our tendency is to isolate and separate. Sometimes that is our pride. Sometimes that is due to the overly simplistic and unhealthy linear equation of doing right equals everything in life being right. Avoid that and avoid the people that espouse that. Find the deeper souls with scars and talk to them. Confess. This is not optional. With that, you may need to seek the shelter of a professional counselor. That stupid stigma of counseling is a thing of the past. Let it go. I have been to a lot of counseling. It has been great and I do not care what you think. I care what my wife and kids think and they are thankful for it.
Keep Walking. Remember. Walking is not solving it. It is not getting out from under it. You cannot just make this happen. Hardship and discipline are about enduring. You cannot just lay down or constantly sulk. You must pick it up and walk with it. One step at a time. Sometimes you need to just shut off your brain, put your head down and hike.
Develop Rhythm. When you are literally hiking a long distance, you have to have a plan of rhythm. You need to set a reasonable pace. You have to determine resting points. You need to plan out how much water you should drink so that you stay hydrated and do not run out of water. You cannot just figure it out along the way when you are hiking twenty to fifty miles non-stop. Trust me. The same goes for our emotional and spiritual health. We need breaks, food, water and we need these scheduled on some level. Whether that is reading, creating, exercising, or time to just sit and be, get some rhythm.
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined–and everyone undergoes discipline–then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12:7-13
1 Exodus 16:3
2 Exodus 32:10
3 Hebrews 12:7
4 Hebrews 12:9-11
5 Hebrews 12:12-13