A Story About the Cost of Discipleship

There was a group of young minority men who were among the best and brightest in society.  Not only had they been top of their class, they were athletically fit, and good looking besides.  They represented the whole package and consequently were selected to be a part of an elite government internship that only the very best could hope to be admitted to.  Needless to say, they were very excited about the opportunity, but they were also somewhat nervous.  It was not a very common practice for minorities to rise into  such positions of influence, and they were concerned to make a good impression.  At the same time however, they felt a lot of pressure to not “sell out” their identity in order to secure a position.  It was  delicate balancing act, but being friends, they worked hard to keep each other accountable and to encourage each other.

For the most part, they did well, but one day the internship director informed them that in order to advance in the program, they would need to sign some documents and agree to participate in some things that normally would be against their religion. “It’s all just a formality,” they were assured, but these young friends were a bit nervous and didn’t want to sign.  The internship director told them that he’d give them a chance to think about it, but it really wasn’t an option — and he couldn’t figure what the big deal was anyway.  Talking about it later on in their room, the friends decided that they really couldn’t sign it, and certainly couldn’t participate, but they knew it would only make it hard on the internship director, whom they all liked.

Somehow  the next day they convinced him to let them continue the program on a trial basis, without signing, and promised him that if anything didn’t go right, they would go ahead with the full program.  The director reluctantly agreed, and at the end of the program, well everything worked out for them.  They were able to graduate and all of them got excellent government positions.  The internship director wrote the references himself, something he rarely did.

Fast forward a few years and our young men are all still friends, well paid, and enjoying the good life.  They spent their days in high level meetings and their nights out on the town enjoying the diverse and exciting night life befitting the capital of the most powerful country in the world.  The petty troubles of their internship years were far behind them.  They were still some of the few minorities working in such high levels of government to be sure, but they lived in enlightened times.  No one bothered them much about their odd customs, other than to make the occasional joke, or the puzzled look when their friends found out that they observed such quaint religious rituals.  “To each his own,” their friends would say, “as long as you don’t try to impose it on others, I think it’s fine.”  And it was fine, mostly.

Until one day when the large packet packet detailing all the requirements of recent passed legislation landed on the desk of one of the friends.  He almost didn’t see it at first, as he lazily scanned the pages and pages of arcane legal language that was the most dull part of his day.  But there it was, plain as day – “all employees shall…, failure to abide by this regulation…, this policy will be applied without exception….”  He stopped reading, speechless.  Usually regulations like this always contained some policy exemption, some language that provided a loophole here or there, but there was none.

Down the hall he ran, not bothering to knock but burst in on his friend.  The others were already there. “So you heard?” he asked, but no answer was needed.  They had.

Days and weeks went by; meeting after meeting was held.  Promises of conciliation and assurances of good faith were given, but no, the policy would not be changing.  “You don’t understand,” they pleaded at desk after desk, higher and higher up the chain of management.  Whose policy is this anyway? Surely they don’t mean to implement this.  The questions swirled faster and faster but the conclusion was always the same.

The city lights sparkled in the distance. Soft music played while the smell of exquisite food being prepared in the courtyard below wafted in.  The spacious apartment decorated in the latest style and filled with the finest decor was a far cry from the cramped dorm room.  But the luxurious surroundings and fine wine could not hide the heaviness in the room.  Their appeals were exhausted, and so it seemed were they.  “Maybe if we just…”  “No that wouldn’t work.”  “Do you think if we talked to…”  Sentences half finished and never answered.  They knew the answer already.  “We knew it might come to this some day.  We’ve had a good ride so far.  God’s been good to us, so we can’t really complain.”  Muffled sighs of agreement and resignation answered.  It was true.  They had known; they’d always known.  “Well,” he spoke, standing and lifting his glass as for a toast, “we cannot know if the LORD will save us from destruction tomorrow or not, but whether he does or not, we will not bow.”  The others lifted their glasses to the toast and drank the last in silence.

The Paths we Choose and the Life that Follows

Image 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.

Who among us does not remember reading, reciting, or analyzing this famous poem by Robert Frost during those long lost days years ago when we were busy cramming our minds full of the information society thought would be invaluable for us to know?  Who among us can ever really get past the profound insight of the words themselves as our day to day lives are marked continually by the need to choose this or that path?  And we look back in wonder that our choices and the choices of others have led us to this point.

The other day I met a man who is “living the dream,” that is to say, he is very much living the life I envisioned for myself when I was a college student: young, good looking & unattached, pulling down a handsome salary in the finance industry, and thoroughly invested in the life of the local church.  As we talked, and as I left the conversation, I felt the familiar twinge of doubt, or was it regret?

I sigh inwardly and contemplate “the road less traveled” upon which I’ve trod these twenty years.  My life is far different than I imagined it would be.  We talked across the dinner table, my wife and I, discussing the petty details of upcoming travels and reflecting on the more profound details of what really is entailed in the “good life.”  And it has been a good life.  I have a wonderful wife, a healthy and handsome son, all my needs are provided for.  And yet even knowing this, the twinge of regret/doubt still comes.

How did I get here?  How do any of us get anywhere?  Simply we get wherever we are through the day by day choices we make that lead us inexorably along a path the end of which we cannot now imagine.  Who imagines anything accurately about their future life?  We don’t and we cannot.  We simply choose, one step at a time.  It is this basic reality that causes me to reject any notion that people are somehow prisoners of their feelings or trapped by their inclinations.  Scientists confirm what the Bible teaches — as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.  And so as we choose the right, the holy, the merciful, the good – over and again – the paths in our brain literally take shape and we become different kinds of people than we were.  A decision, once taken, will lead, with its twists and turns and hidden corners, either towards a deeper and richer and more transformative relationship with God through Jesus, or further and further away.  And like the  traveler in Frost’s poem, there is never an option not to choose.