In these days of daily scientific innovation, it’s hard to remember a time when battery-powered toys first appeared. I recall a toy tank I had that ran on batteries. It had a very cool feature. When it ran against a wall or any immovable obstacle, it would pause for a second, and then reverse direction. This may seem rather quaint and outdated in a day of mechanised dogs etc. but it was a real big thing back then.
For some reason this memory came to mind as I thought of the relationship of our outward and inward journeys. Our lives are usually preoccupied with our outer journeys – till we hit an obstacle. And suddenly we focus on our inward journeys in earnest.
Outward obstacles include:
*The discovery that you have fourth stage cancer. *You have been out of a job for two years. *The death of someone very close to you. *Financial difficulties. *Severe family problems with no obvious solutions. *Betrayal by someone very dear to you. *The experience of burnout and/or severe depression.
You get the general picture.
Shock causes you to pause for a while. Then suddenly you find yourself confronted with the key questions of the soul.
*What is life all about? *What really happens at death? *Why is life so unfair? *Is there really a God? *Is Jesus the real thing or am I just fooling myself? *Why must I suffer so much pain? *What are the unfinished tasks of my life? *What and/or who is really important in my life? *Who do I want to be when I grow up? *In what areas of my life am I badly in need of maturing? *What has God been asking me to do, but which I have kept postponing?
Of course these are the primary questions of our life. But most of the time we do not pursue these questions.
It almost begs the question that God may have to allow incredible pain to enter our lives sometimes, to force us to change our focus from our fixation with the outside world and to start taking the inner world more seriously.
Maybe pain is already in the world because of sin. And God allows pain to remain as the ultimate spiritual pedagogical tool, including the knocks in our lives that force us to attend to the matters of the soul.
In his book Journey To The Inner Mountain, James Cowan writes about Lazarus, an anchorite who tries to follow the ways of St. Anthony:
“…I had failed to heed the call of the spirit, except as some exotic aftertaste no different to a new suit or the latest recording of my favourite artiste. In contrast Lazarus’ gesture of abandonment struck a chord in me. He had deliberately chosen to exile himself from the febrile structures of today’s existence. Just as Anthony’s ‘inner mountain’ became less a place than a way of thinking, so did Lazarus’ retirement to the desert to be near his hero’s cave. He wanted to duplicate the saint’s age-old encounter with what he had called ‘the still state of the soul’. By good fortune, I found myself in the presence of someone who actually considered his soul to be an important field of investigation.”
Cowan also tells us that Lazarus embarked on his journey to the inner mountain only after the pain of seeing his mother die of cancer.
We should all be attending to our inner journey. Unfortunately, most of us will only do the needful after we encounter some knock in life.
Whatever the reason, when we finally focus on our inner journey, we must remember that we must not take this journey alone. We need a reliable guide. Thank God there is one.
“Answer me quickly, Yahweh my spirit is worn out; do not turn away your face from me, or I shall be like those who sink into oblivion. Let dawn bring news of your faithful love, for I place my trust in you; show me the road I must travel for you to relieve my heart. Rescue me from my enemies, Yahweh, since in you I find protection. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your generous spirit lead me on even ground.”
Psalm 143: 7-10 NJB
Indeed we will find ourselves led to “grassy meadows” and “tranquil streams”. If that be the case, one day, we may discover that the knocks we experience in life, the unmovable obstacles we encountered, were really gifts in disguise.