They say, “Life is a journey.”
From John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” to Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” the imagery of a journey has always been a helpful metaphor for describing the experience of life. We talk about “the road I chose” or “the path I took” when we find ourselves reflecting about our days on this earth.
The imagery of this journey abounds in our conversation. We use phrases like:
· “I’m in a rut.” = stuck, routine, unmotivated
· “I ended up in a ditch.” = sidetracked, sidelined, wrecked, broken
· “It’s like pushing a rock up hill.” = difficult, discouraging, frustrating
· “It’s all down hill from here.” = easy, effortless, or, at times, hopeless
· “The mountain in front of me.” = challenge, obstacle, difficulty
· “I’m off to greener pastures.” = better, opportunity, hopefulness
· “It was a deep hole to climb out of.” = consequences, discouragement
· “It’s been a rocky road.” = disappointing, difficult, contentious
This same image also plays well in the songs we love. Some days the journey takes us out along “country roads” while other times it’s more like “life in the fast lane.” Sometimes it’s a “stairway to heaven.” Sometimes, a “highway to hell.”
Life is full of contrasts; up and downs, mountain highs and valley lows, crashing waves, and quiet pastures. Some days you’re enthusiastically scaling the rock face of life’s opportunities. Other days you’re frozen in fear against the precipice, trying to figure out what to do to keep from plummeting to your death.
Along the road to life we will discover fascinating places, meet lots of interesting people, and enjoy amazing experiences. If we keep our eyes and ears open, we find ourselves in a front row seat of the exciting story unfolding right before us. An open mind helps, too.
The amazing truth about being human is that each of us possesses the power to make our own choices, to decide our own priorities, and to determine our own direction. Ultimately, the choices we make, the priorities we choose, and the direction we take, becomes our destiny.
Just Trying to Help
Regardless of what path you choose, you will inevitably meet some people along the way who have been on the road a bit longer. They’re a little further ahead of you. They are not necessarily better at walking the road, just more experienced. They have been a few more places, met a few more people, and enjoyed a few more adventures by virtue of the time they have been on the road.
It is not that they are more intelligent, more responsible, or even, more mature. It’s just that they have seen and done a few more things than you and learned a lesson or two you have yet to understand.
Never miss the opportunity to talk with those on the road ahead of you when it presents itself. What they have to share can be really helpful if you’re inclined to listen.
Those who have traveled longer and further than you will tell you the road to life is not always pleasant, easy, or comfortable. Sometimes, it can be difficult, disappointing, and even dangerous. At times, frustrating, confusing, scary, overwhelming, intimidating, lonely, isolating, and downright paralyzing.
Those ahead of you can warn you where the water gets deep, the bridge is out, the trail gets tricky, or the rocks are slippery.
Some of what they might try to tell you is stuff like:
· Some of the people you’ll meet along the way will break your heart or violate your trust.
· There will be some situations that are really hard to figure out and you won’t always know exactly what to do next.
· Your life’s work can become stressful, overwhelming, and sometimes, just boring.
· Along the way, money can get really tight.
· At some point on the journey, you might become ill, injured, or your body will just stop working the way it always has.
· At times on the road, things can get really confusing inside your head and your heart will feel sad, angry, or hopeless for reasons you don’t always understand.
· There will be times on the journey where the world will be a pretty scary place with all kinds of strange, dangerous, and heartbreaking things happening all around you.
The experienced traveler – the one a little further down the road than you – doesn’t tell you these things to discourage or frighten you. They’re just trying to help. All they want to do is alert you to what you might encounter to prepare you for what may come.
We do ourselves a big favor when we listen to what they have to share. Only ignorant people ignore the helpful advice of others.
One of the benefits of listening to what they have to share is to see it’s completely normal to encounter difficulties along the road. They’ve had them; you will too. Bumps in the road are just part of life.
On most days, the road can be a fun, fascinating, and fulfilling adventure.
Just not every day.
Some days are dark and dreary, some disappointing, others just downright discouraging.
My Best Advice
As one who has traveled this road for a little over half a century, I want to share one thing with you that I hope you will remember for as long as you live.
Don’t ever forget this:
THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE!
Whatever happens down the road, there is always hope. No matter how dark the night, there is always the flicker of a candle called hope. When engulfed in utter darkness, there is always the warm glow of a lantern offering a faint light by which to find your way forward when the clouds hide the moon. If you can’t see it, look in another direction. It’s there.
There isn’t anything that you will encounter on that road before you that you can’t overcome. Not necessarily because you are so strong and capable in and of yourself, but because there is always somebody who can help you in some way.
Here are two reasons why I believe there is always hope for anybody and everybody, regardless of your faith, your philosophy, or your feelings. No matter what you are facing in your life, these two things are always true.
1. THERE IS ALWAYS HELP!
There is always someone who can help, some thing that helps, or some way to get over, around, or through whatever you might encounter on the road up ahead of you.
We live in a world full of all kinds of remarkable resources. A lot of them are free!
As much as we bellyache about the burden of taxes or the bureaucracy of government services, there is a plethora of agencies and organizations that offer subsidized help for anybody who needs it. From medical care to academic tutoring; from financial assistance to a place to sleep for the night, there is help.
If you need it, there is a place where you can find it.
There is always someone or something that can provide whatever kind of help you need. There is no reason to suffer alone or for a long time with all of the support and care that is out there.
Your friends, parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, counselors, ministers, peers - sometimes even complete strangers – are more than willing to offer you some guidance, assistance, or support. And when they can’t, there are always other adults, other teachers, other doctors, or other ministers, who can.
Deciding you can’t be helped by anything or anyone when you face something overwhelming on your journey just isn’t the truth. It is a lie that keeps you from moving past the obstacle in your path.
Quit believing it. It could cost you your life.
From the seduction of suicide to the prison of addiction, from the despair of divorce to the discouragement of illness, don’t believe for a minute there is no way to escape whatever kidnapped your hope. Do not let yourself go it alone when there is help for the asking.
We have to acknowledge that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
Wise people ask for help! Really smart people understand that they can’t possibly know everything, fix everything, or do everything. It is just not humanly possible. So they ask for help. They are not intimidated or embarrassed to reach out to somebody smarter, more experienced, or more talented to help them where they are stuck.
There is always hope because there is always help.
And because there is always help…
2. THERE IS ALWAYS HEALING!
“It will get better.”
“Tomorrow is a new day.”
“The answer is out there.”
“We can always find a solution.”
“Wounds will heal.”
“Change is possible.”
These are not just plastic things to say to someone who is hurting as a way to sound compassionate without getting involved. They really are true about life. It really will get better. Tomorrow really is a new day. There really are answers and solutions to the questions of our soul. Wounds really do heal. Change really is possible.
Reality confirms that the sun always comes up in the morning. The dark night of despair never lasts forever.
It may take a whole lot longer than we might wish. The path back may be much more difficult than we’d like. The road to recovery may exact more pain than any of us imagines. It may get worse before it gets better. However, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. There is always hope on the other side of healing.
The human body is a remarkable organism capable of extraordinary abilities. One, of which, is healing. Tissue, muscles, bones, ligaments and joints can restore themselves after serious injuries. Organs can recover after significant trauma. With the proper medical attention, it is amazing what the body can do when it comes to healing.
Even more resilient is the human soul. With the right kind of help, a soul can heal from whatever trauma it has endured. No matter how much pain you encounter down in the deepest recesses of your life, there is always the hope of recovery.
Granted, healing doesn’t always mean getting everything back exactly the way it was before. Healing from a divorce doesn’t necessarily mean being happily married again. Healing from an injury doesn’t always mean being active in the exact same way. Healing from abuse doesn’t mean never remembering the pain.
Sure, it takes time. Sure, it’s not easy. Sure, it takes a tremendous amount of work to make your way back to where you want to be. Sure, there are moments when you will ache with a longing for the way it used to be.
That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t get there.
Healing can be about perspective; a new way of seeing things. It is the joy of learning to live in a way where the past no longer determines your future. While the pain may not go away and the problems may persist, it is still possible to find a different perspective on whatever you face.
You can always make a positive out of a negative.
A few months ago, I stood on the starting line of an Olympic distance triathlon in Austin, Texas. A few of the two thousand athletes lined up beside me were missing arms or legs. A couple were blind. Some were battling cancer, while others had fought their way to that starting line after suffering life-threatening injuries. However, they ran the exact same race I did; some of them faster than I did. Whatever took their limbs – whether disease or disaster – they were able to find their way through enormous loss and become triathletes.
Even in their pain they chose to live beyond their grief to accomplish an extraordinary feat.
No, they weren’t able to replace their limbs, miraculously regain their sight, or change the past. However, they could heal how they saw their limitations. And they did! They turned them into an heroic and inspirational passion for life!
And so can you.
In the face of whatever you are going to run into on the road of life, you too can turn obstacles into opportunities.
Don’t Ever Forget This
There is always hope!
I hope you will never, ever forget that for as long as you live.
I hope that whatever you encounter on your journey along the road of life, you will recall reading “that article by that guy” and remember, “There is always hope.”
Because there is always help, there is always healing.
Because there is always healing, there is always hope.
Because there is always hope, life’s journey can be a remarkable adventure regardless of what you may encounter on the road to wherever life may take you.
I’ll see you on down the road. I hope you have a great trip!