I stand at a crossroads, two ways before me. One paved and well lit, the other hard pan, worn through newly greening grass. Which way do I go?
A Robert Frost poem beckons dimly from an English class long past. Something about two paths and a choice to be made. One worn and one less so? The brave choose the one less traveled, it seems to say. They venture into uncharted territory and pave their own way.
Clearly, the folks in charge of these paths want me to choose the paved path. It is straight and firm so I won’t lose my footing. It is lit so I can walk it any time of the day or night and not lose my way. But is it the well worn path? Robert Frost seems to ask me. I can’t tell because its surface doesn’t show the wear and tear of footsteps along it. At least not today.
Clearly, someone wants me to go this way. But I’m glad for the other path; it actually leads in the direction I want to go. Those willing to take the chance of stepping off the paved path have given me permission to go this way. I’m grateful to them because when I was this age – college age as I am on a college campus today – I didn’t feel that freedom. I was all about seeking the right way, the paved way, the lit path.
Now, I am here with my own daughter, and she is readying to choose her own path. She doesn’t even hesitate at this intersection. Well, of course, take the dirt path; it’s more direct. Yet, she looks around. Is anyone actually walking across the grass? Am I singling myself out here? Will someone catch me and caution me about treading on the grass? What are the rules here?
Ah, the rules. We don’t like them, but it’s so important we know them. Not so we can break them, as some creative writing teachers will tell you, but because they are there for a reason. And reasons we need to know, so we can decide for ourselves whether the reasoning is sound and deserves our attention and respect. This is the way of youth. This, quite frankly, is the way of today.
Shortcuts are convenient and treading new paths is bold. But often the path laid before us is meant to take us past things we need to see (and perhaps deny or adopt) before we go on our way. The hard thing is, we don’t know which is which when we stand before both. As Sir Robert did not when he stood before his decision. But if he was to move on, he had to choose. To say no to one when he stepped onto the other.
And that, ironically, is the apparent lesson of this poem, as I read it again after all these years. It is not ‘the road less taken’; it is The Road Not Taken. It does not glorify the spirit of individualism that strikes out on its own. It laments the path we always intended to come back to but never do. Even if life does bring us back to the same crossroads, the choice is not the same because we are not the same. We’ve been changed by the choosing.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, the eve of what would be His crucifixion. Jesus had come to decision point. “Yet not my will but yours be done,” Jesus concluded. Surely, no one with the power to choose otherwise would choose the way of the cross, yet He did.
Could it be that He took the road not meant to be taken in order to pave and bring light to our choice?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“All we can do is pray about it.” Is that something people say to you? Like, we’ve done everything we can, now we’re down to the final straw. One thing left to do…
Well, aside from the obvious – we’re supposed to pray first – I’m a bit leery of the last gasp prayer. Because it supposes that God won’t tell you, in your exasperated listening, to get off your knees and do something. Perhaps He won’t. Maybe He’ll just, with a consoling shake of the Great Head say, “Yes, I am frustrated with that circumstance, too. I am resigned to praying.” Which actually raises a whole other question…when God prays who does He pray to?…but that will have to wait for another day.
Today, I prefer to consider prayer as preparation. Preparing me for the next thing I am meant to do. When I suppose it is the last thing on the list, I’m presuming it’s all that will be asked of me. But what if He shows me something else? I need to leave that door open.
I just spoke to a friend who took a new job after 5 years in another position that was exceedingly difficult. This job, she says, is much harder, but in those 5 years God was teaching her and preparing her with all the tools she would need to succeed in the new job. As if He knew just where she was headed. Hard to believe.
That is what we say though, right? That He “has a plan for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). So why would we settle for sitting in one place? Why would we insist on keeping this job? Why would we dig our feet in where we are? Probably because we know where we are. Where we are headed only He knows. But if we really trust that the way is His, then we need to be headed out. And, count on each faithful step preparing us for the next.
In my morning exercise I pull outward on the handles of my exercise tubing, its anchor in the hinge of the door, and squeeze my shoulder blades together, strengthening my shoulders and back. My body forms a T and I hold it there, a Crucifixion of sorts. Perhaps I am odd to wonder…Would this exercise prepare a body for crucifixion? How was Christ prepared? What could possibly prepare one for such a moment?
If God knew it was coming, if Christ was born to die on a cross, then His life was lived in preparation for exactly that moment, that event, that ending. Not to stand strong against it, but to do God’s will in it. To live it through to the end, until it is finished. There would be no praying it away. No asking for it to be removed – well, asking, but then resigning oneself to the reality – and then agreeing and submitting oneself to live the story as it had already been written.
Perhaps if I lived my life this way, even one day, accepting that everything that came and every hardship I faced, was intended specifically for the purpose of preparing me for the next thing, I would live differently. I would actually give thanks in ALL circumstances, knowing the work behind the scenes was all for the good of the one who loves God and has been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
What if God knew I could only fully experience the glories of heaven if my soul on earth was prepared fully? What if He designed each of our lives for exactly that purpose? As if He knew just where we were headed.