I have a distinct memory of certain poetry reverberating in my mind like sound waves through the soul… the ripple effect, seemingly a microcosm of a life with the potential to be lived or to merely exist,
“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.
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.”
In his poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost writes of contradicting thoughts. He asserts that he came to a fork in the road, where one of two paths could have been taken; whilst looking far down the road, he observed that one that had been worn down, seemingly muddy and raggedy, and one that was grassy, lush, and full of life. Telling himself that he may one day come back to this fork in order to appease the terror of making a permanent decision, Frost knew he would not likely return to this point as traveling down one road leads to new forks and new decisions to be had. As he reflects on which way to take, he decides to take the one less traveled by.
Frost’s intent may have been to toss a quarter in the air, claiming heads or tails of the matter. He was not sure which way to take as looks may be deceiving —the mud on one road or the grass on the other may have made little difference, other than the curiosity as to why the grassy road had not been taken. Another perspective could be to say that it is possible the grassy road was less often traveled for good reason – what if there was a cliff on the other end of the road? What if there was danger yet unseen? Thus, the first road may have been trampled due to the understanding of those who took that road that the second grassy road appeared to be appealing, yet had the trappings of deceit. Or… what if the grassy road had been less traveled due to the ambiguous fear that the road had indeed been less traveled? Although the author’s intent may bifurcate one’s interpretation, I tend to see art, as a broad term, to be equally left to the recipient’s interpretation.
It is interesting that Frost’s poem is titled, “The Road Not Taken,” not, “The Road Less Traveled.” The former seems to indicate the focus on a small regret of not seeing what the muddy road had to offer, while the latter hears a more optimistic approach… meaning, the curiosity one may be inclined to experience in walking a yet unbothered road. Conversely, the pride one may endure in walking down a path that others had yet to forge; a false sense of boldness and courage, yet the motivating factors were only to have the appearance of “unique” or “different.”
Often, it is unclear as to which path to take since we merely see dimly into the consequences of decisions. We may think we are playing life like a chess game, predicting 10 steps ahead; however, that is only 10 steps out of an infinite number of possibilities, therefore there is no guarantee that our 10 steps are guaranteed to play out. This endless process of mulling over which decision to make and projecting prediction can lead to worry, and worry leads to anxiety. An inner life of worry and anxiety will lead to poor attitudes, and poor attitudes to harsh words, and harsh words to unwise actions. The condition of our hearts is exposed through these means. As a man thinketh, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).
In the Church, we frequently talk about what we shouldn’t do, but there is rarely any practicality to these sentiments. This leads to frustration—even frustration with the Lord as we then may accumulate a false understanding of who He really is. This frustration leads to anger, and anger to rebellion. Rebellion is a form of pride, which pushes us even further from the Lord because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). God OPPOSES the proud– meaning, He is actively fighting against the proud. It is not easy to see the direction of the Lord’s leading—muddy or grassy—with the Lord’s active opposition to our pride.
So how can we practically stop this process at its start to clearly see the direction the Lord is leading? I’m glad you asked… His name is Jesus.
There is much truth to taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:5). In order to see what road we should take, our minds and hearts must sometimes be cleared of the fog and smokey black tar of negative thoughts or emotions. Rather, the light of the Son will pierce through the fog when we decide we no longer desire the comfort of the familiar. So how does one live this out in a practical sense? It requires enough faith– the faith of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), to pray boldly before the Throne of Grace. Here are a few practical steps:
- Pray, asking the Lord to put a “red flag” up in your system the moment your thoughts and/or feelings start to go “off track.”
BEWARE: This may be required MANY times/day, and requires MUCH persistence/diligence, which are impossible feats without asking the Lord to partner with us in this!
This means asking the Lord to help us immediately recognize when we have either, 1) Thoughts would potentially lead in the direction of worry, or 2) Feelings that might produce anxiety due to worrying about where those feelings are coming from/what we did to produce that feeling. Plainly put, worry is sin. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). The reason worry is sin is that it demonstrates distrust in the Lord. It signifies a deeper unbelief in His sovereignty, or His ability to have control over all things. We doubt His control, so we take control ourselves. Control is a form of pride. Rather, when we worry, we attempt to figure things out, and take control of things for ourselves, which is a form of pride. In effect, we are saying that our ability to plan and take care of things on our own is better than anything God can do. This demonstrates a lack of faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Further, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
The aforementioned should not produce condemnation, or a feeling shame about something we cannot control on our own; it should produce a hope… a hope in the understanding that it is not our job to stop worrying on our own– it is our job to have enough faith to ask God to stop our worrying in its tracks as many times a day, or even hour, that it is necessary. A hope that we may ask God to divert our thinking into something that will produce the fruit of righteousness. It can be done, and I am one small example of living proof.
Further, viewing worry in truth, as sin, should not produce a fear of condemnation, which will lead to angry rebellion; to the contrary, it should produce conviction and hope in that we can truly be free of attempting to make decisions on our own. Further we may eventually step into the freedom He died for us to possess. This may require the foundation of patience, as God does not often answer in the way we would like or when we would like, but He does in fact guide.
- When the Lord reveals our thoughts are going off track, ask Him to help prompt us to pray in order to: 1) Dissect what is really going on in our hearts with His help, and 2) Surrender our thoughts and emotions to Christ.
- Dissect what is really going on in our hearts…
- Example prayer: Lord, will you help me to understand what is going on in my heart right now? I can’t pinpoint its source– it may be either a thought or a feeling that has stemmed into a huge black net in my heart. I can’t understand and I can’t let this go unless you help me. Please reveal to me the root trauma or experience that has led to this type of thinking. When You expose the root, please burn it with your eternal fire and release healing power. I believe you can and will heal me, and You are the Lord our Healer. Help me to verbally express forgiveness where necessary, and then help my feelings to catch up to what I express verbally.
- Surrender your thoughts and emotions to Christ… many of us recognize that worrying is a problem, but how do we stop? What does surrender look like practically? Well practically, we must admit our complete, total, and utter inability to do anything without Him… admit our need for full dependence on Him, which requires humility. An act of humility is agreeing with Christ, and Christ knows our total weakness without Him. Again, when the Lord has revealed that our thinking and/or feelings are going off track and we have asked Him what the source of the negativity was, we must humble ourselves and admit we are completely weak and unable to change this without His help.
- Example prayer: Lord, I cannot let this go without You. I do not know where this thought/emotion is coming from, but if it ain’t good, it ain’t God. I need Your help to redirect my thoughts to thoughts that honor You/glorify Your Name, and to stop this negative emotion from turning into worry, as I try to mull over in my mind why I am feeling this way, or what I did to deserve these feelings/thoughts. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). These feelings will surely lead to anxiety and fear if not stopped. Please stop them at their root, and give me a new purpose and direction for my mind. Further, this anxious/fearful thought may be a result of a lack of trust in You, so please reveal to me the area(s) I am not trusting You, and teach me to know You are faithful in that area. Help my unbelief. Help me to be diligent in this process of taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
- Have the mentality that you will not give up until you achieve healing and see clear direction. Believe you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).
- If we have trouble finding the courage and strength to bring about this attitude, or even maintain it, we must fear not. Ask the Lord for the will, diligence, persistence, and endurance to fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12)… to maintain a posture that doesn’t give up or give in… to have the heart of a warrior… to maintain dignity, and to keep our heads held high, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is God (Psalm 46:10) and He will do it.
So what road should we take? What path will produce ample fruit, with the greatest potential for “success”? Because we cannot determine whether the muddy path is safer or trekked out of fear, how can we ensure we will choose correctly? The answer, and only answer, is Jesus… simple in concept, difficult and sometimes excruciating in execution. We can ponder like Robert Frost, but place our true reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In effect, I cannot tell you which road to take, nor would I if I knew. I fear God too much to make a prideful assertion of what you should do with your life. I am not a prophet. But what I do know is that when we truly seek to honor the Lord, He will never abandon us in those efforts. He will faithfully provide direction to those who earnestly seek it. Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). He gives wisdom dependably to those who request it, and He does so generously and without lack (Proverbs 2:6; James 1:5).
The words of the Bible– the Word of God, are true, living, active, and have the ability to save… if the Word of God has the power to provide salvation, how can it not provide us with direction? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God (John 1:1). So if the Word is God, and that Word is Jesus Christ, is it not true that prayer to God and the Word/Scripture have the power to change hearts, minds, and the lives of those who believe? Is it not true that the Lord listens to the cries of believers (Mark 11:24; 1 John 5:14-15), and hears the prayers of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29)? Thank You Jesus that righteousness is imputed to those who love God through Christ!
May the power of the resurrection reside in your prayers. May you continue to confess your trust in Jesus that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). May He provide clear direction and ample notice. May you continue to seek to trust that the Lord our provider will provide in all areas of need, and even in those areas where we want but do not need (read about the wedding in Cana). It only takes a mustard seed of faith (Matthew 17:20); however, in all the areas of unbelief, may He grow your faith beyond your ability to comprehend. May you take just one baby step towards Him, and may He take a million giant steps toward you… may He meet you where you are at. May your days be long and full of understanding. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, may He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:23-27). In Jesus’ holy and righteous name I pray, amen!