A friend once told me about a professor he knew who was so absent-minded that he drove to a city for a meeting and then grabbed a cab to the airport when the meeting was over, forgetting he had come by car. Another time, while standing next to his car in a college parking lot with an armload of books and a puzzled look on his face, the professor hailed a student, saying, “Excuse me. I wonder if you could you tell me—am I coming or am I going?”
When it comes to our spiritual lives, some of us are similarly challenged. We don’t really know whether we are coming or going. Caught up in everyday events, we fail to remember not only that we are headed somewhere but that we are traveling a path with Someone. Staying close to that Someone—to God our Father—is vital to living a life of peace. Otherwise, we will become so invested in life here and now that we will forget our purpose for living.
Remember the story of Dorothy, the young girl from Kansas, who followed the yellow brick road in search of the Emerald City and the great wizard of Oz? At one point in her quest, she and her companions wander into a field of poppies. Though Dorothy doesn’t know it, she is standing on dangerous ground because the flowers exude a scent that can lull unwary travelers into a sleep that will last forever. Our own world can sometimes function like that gorgeous field of poppies, lulling us by its pleasures and seducing us by its comforts. After a while, we are tempted to settle down. A nicer house, a better job, a thinner body—these and a thousand other desires can command our thoughts, our talents, and our energy. We get caught up with countless desires, stuck like Tar Baby to all our wants.
Trouble, too, can become a snare. The stock market plunges and fear proliferates. Our children struggle and anxiety takes over. Our career disappoints and depression sets in. If you wonder whether this might apply to you, think for a moment about the things that upset you most in the past week. Then about the things that have given you the most joy. Do any of them have the whiff of eternity about them, or do they merely carry the scent of this world? Our emotions can provide clues to what is driving us. Is the power and presence of God the driving force of my life, or am I constantly buffeted by the winds of success, comfort, fear, or anxiety?
Both desires and struggles, if pursued or resisted without reference to God, can be a fog obscuring not only the path ahead but the fact that we are even on a path. At times, they make us forget where God is leading us. Of course God can use our difficulties to advance his plans. It is sometimes true, as the saying goes, that the obstacle itself is the path. A sickness can lead to deeper prayer and greater empathy. A difficult child can lead to greater faith and patience. Nothing is wasted in the lives of those who belong to God. Even our desires can help us discern his will. The mistake comes from pursuing or resisting desires and difficulties on our own, without seeking God’s help and guidance.
If we want to experience peace, it is vital to stay on the path, to continue to follow the one who loves us.