Psalm 16:11, I Corinthians 13:11-13
The Rev. Tom Herbek
June 17, 2018
At some point in our lives, we all ask for some help to show us the path for life, our own unique path, just as the Psalmist asked God to do for them several thousand years ago. Our need for guidance, and our desire to find our own path is not new. Paul describes this search as putting away the way we saw things as a child, seeing things more clearly, understanding what is most important in life, which he clearly says is love. Finding our path is a very individual task, and part of the process is discovering paths that turn out not to be our own path. Kent Nerburn, in his book, Small Graces, describes how finding our path is a life-long quest:
Across the road from my home is a small stand of oak, pine, and aspen. It is the far perimeter of some farmer’s land and has never been tilled or shaped. It is separated from the road by a steep bank, and is really quite undistinguished. Few people bother to climb the bank to make this wood’s acquaintance.
Because so few human visitors come, the animals have taken full ownership of this small wood, working out their elemental dramas and living their unobserved lives. Squirrels, foxes, birds of all varieties- it is small animals, intent upon small actions, who call this wood home.
Today my son, Nick, and I have decided to climb the bank and explore the wood. We make our way slowly and clumsily. The ground is an undergrowth of brush and fallen branches, making this an exercise in pathfinding as much as a gentle stroll. Still, he is seven, and moves easily- more easily than I.
I push aside a bush that blocks my path. Beneath it I see a small trail curving through the underbrush. It is a path worn by constant usage, padded and shaped by the frequent passage of tiny feet. It weaves and winds among the bracken, moving perfectly to avoid all obstacles. I follow it with my eyes. Once discovered, its course is obvious. It goes beneath a fallen tree, beneath two stumps, across a patch of field, and up a hill.
“Nick,” I call. “Come look at this.”
He turns reluctantly from his place far in front of me. He is proud of his ability to move more swiftly than his father, and does not like being pulled back into the subservient status of a child.
“Come on,” I say. “It’s worth it.”
He bounds down the hill, irritated, but curious. I pull back the bush and show him the path. He stands silently, fascinated. He is staring at a world in miniature.
“The animals who made that trail must think we’re giants,” he says.
“And this bush must seem like a tree,” I add.
I am happy. We are sharing the kind of moment that gives a father joy. But Nick is already down on his hands and knees. “I want to see like a chipmunk sees,” he tells me.
He begins to crawl along the trail, but the lowlying branches and fallen limbs claw at his face and block his path.
“You’re too big,” I say.
He pushes forward. “Go on ahead,” he says with irritation. He wants to become one with the small animals. My presence casts a pall over his imagination.
I pick my way among the trees toward the crest of the hill as he thrashes along the ground behind me. Finally, he gives up.
“You’re right,” he shouts. “I’m too big.”
“It’s not your path,” I answer.
At various times in our life, we find out that a particular path is not our path, which allows us to focus our search in other areas. Author Richard Reed interviewed a lot of famous and successful people, asking them for their most valuable piece of advice they would give to others. His book is entitled, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing.
Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel echoes the words of I Corinthians from a modern-day, techno-savvy world view:
“We have gone, at this point, into a digitalized way of life, a generation that has been
clicking away forever, in environments that are sensorially deprived. And it creates a corrective need for human contact, for face-to-face relationships, but after the digital world we can often struggle with the imperfect nature of real people. ”
“There can be something beautiful about the immediacy of connection that the digital world allows, but on the other hand dating apps where we swipe left or right can leave people feeling disposable, commodified, even, and that commodification is hurtful and degrading.”
“The quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships. Not on your achievements, not on how smart you are, not on how rich you are, but on the quality of your relationships, which are basically a reflection of your sense of decency, your ability to think of others, your generosity. Ultimately at the end of your life, if people commend you, they will say what a wonderful human being you were, and when they talk about the human being that you were, it won’t be the fact that you had a big bank account. It really won’t. It will be about how you treated the people around you and how you made them feel.”
Entrepreneur and inventor Richard Branson offers the following advice about life:
“People talk about work and play as if they are separate things, with one being there to compensate for the other, but all of it is life, all of it is precious. Don’t waste any of it doing something you don’t want to do. And do all of it with the people you love.”
Nelson Mandela’s daughter- Dr. Maki Mandela- describes needing to find her own path:
Obviously, living in the shadow of a man revered by the world was not easy, something that even Mandela himself acknowledged. “He always advocated me finding my own path in life. He knew I could not fit in his shoes. He said if your mission is to be the same as your parents, then you have no ambition.”
Her own path was to become a social worker, PhD anthropologist, businesswoman, and vineyard-owning entrepreneur finding her own way through life, independent of her father’s shadow while loving him for who he was. It’s reflected in her main piece of advice: “All the answers that we want are within us. Live your own life. Walk your own path.”
Swiss-born British philosopher and author Alain de Botton suggests there are signals:
“Find the thing that drives you. It’s not easy. Most of us are not obvious to ourselves. But we occasionally pick up indistinct signals, some kind of vague longing, from something that feels like a ghost-self, deep within us, something that refuses to die but is not quite alive either. That ghost is our true self, trying to come out. Listen out for it. We have to turn our ghost-self into a real person. We need to bring the ghost to life.”
And I love the advice that Scottish singer, songwriter and political activist Annie Lennox gives:
“There will be ‘Aha’ moments in life when a light might go on, when you think to yourself, ‘I MUST do that’ whatever it is. It’s not because someone says you should do it, but it’s because you feel absolutely compelled to and there would be something wrong with the world if you didn’t. If you find that light- acknowledge it. Find other people who share that passion. Cultivate it. Find that deeper purpose in your life.”
Richard Curtis, screenwriter, director, and producer, describes how we can live out our desire to become all that we have been created to be:
“None of us should ever underestimate our ability to change people’s lives. There is a direct cause and effect of what we do here and what happens there. But if you want to help, you have to actually do something. You can’t just talk about it. My motto is ‘If you want to make things happen, you have to make things.’ Create an object, a slogan, a film, a little book, a badge, a hashtag, a Red Nose Day … make something so wonderful that it captures people’s hearts and minds so they can’t help but be dragged in and help. And even better, make it funny too. That’s all I have ever done.”
And finally, actress Olivia Coleman offers a piece of advice that we can all use every day:
“I have a little rule which I’ve had for about twenty years now. When I leave my front door in the morning, I’m not allowed back in till I’ve done something nice for someone. It makes you feel nice and helps you remember you’re lucky.”
And then she adds:
“If you’re ever lucky enough to be successful in what you choose to do, don’t ever believe your own hype, and remember it could all stop tomorrow. Do whatever you do to the best of your ability. Take the job seriously, but not yourself. And most of all, be nice to work with.”
Finding our path does not begin or end at the end of our formal schooling. It is a life-long quest for each of us. In all of the transitions of our life, we must discover our own path, not someone else’s path. It has to be our own and we must follow it for as long as it remains our path, paying attention to the signs and signals, the intuitive feelings that tell us that it is time to travel a new path.
But throughout it all, throughout our life, let us remember Paul’s extraordinary advice about what is important:
I Corinthians 13:11-13
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.