Finding our way through the various pathways in this life is no easy task. Life often presents itself to us as a maze, an obstacle coarse, or a labyrinth. We need a map. Only after we have trodden any pathway on the feet of our own experience can we be sure that our current steps will lead us to a successful end. We are blind to that which lies around the corner, unless we have previously rounded that corner and gained first-hand knowledge for ourselves. All of us have been schooled in that institution whose famous motto is “experience is the best teacher.” At the end of some of those hard lessons in life, we often find ourselves wishing we could secure a different teacher rather than the tutor who comes with the school of hard knocks.
If we would prefer not to learn all our lessons by the process of autonomy and independence, then we must be open to the idea of learning from the hand of another. All men embrace this idea in some measure as is evidenced when we send the children to school, pay the piano teacher for the weekly lessons, or sign up for the adult education class. These actions and others like them are our testimony that life is best lived when we are influenced by the wisdom of an instructor. A person who has walked a road, found the wisdom, spied out the pitfalls, and laid out a course of action can impart to us the needed instruction to speed up our journey and insure our success. But, without the help of those who can guide, we are committed to that process of trial and error, attempt and fail, or hit and miss that wears out our energy and undermines our nerves.
Why then, would we choose to not heed the voice of a teacher? Could it be that the voice of our arrogance, self-reliance, or independence dooms us to walk the hard road? If we love success, we must love instruction. If we love instruction, we must embrace an instructor. And finally, if we embrace the instructor, we must forfeit the mindset that refuses the harness of the coach, the discipline of the master, the chastisement of the pedagogue, and the evaluation of the tutor.
Once we have accepted the teacher, we must abide in the process until we have been taught. We cannot forsake the instructor or the instruction when the requirements become burdensome, the grades are less than complimentary, the exercise demands continuance, or the process grows painful. We must remain under the teacher until we have passed the course and gained the wisdom. Loving instruction is the process of ranking under a tutor until that tutor releases us through graduation and promotion. Loving instruction, therefore, demands a humble and contrite heart, one that knows the wisdom of submission to a master and the benefits of receiving from an expert. Such a man, the scriptures tell us, has great value in God’s eyes and is promised exaltation and prosperity in God’s kingdom and in this life. Those who love instruction will themselves become the masters and the tutors of tomorrow.
Our nation is in a political crisis and tug-of-war. We are just a few weeks from the midterm elections and both sides are hoping to dominate the field. The politicians are talking; the media is talking; the patrons at the local watering hole are talking. There is no lack of rhetoric. Opinions flourish like dandelions in our yard during the hot days of summer. Feelings are attached to most points of view, and emotions drive many conversations. I find myself turning on the news and reading daily web posts just trying to ascertain facts. Ah – there is the issue. What is the truth?
This week I was listening to an exchange between the press secretary and a national reporter. The reporter was quizzing the narrator about a date. The respondent was notably reticent to give that information, so she was dodging the specifics. The reporter pressed the issue; the press secretary evaded the point. Back and forth went the tug-of-war. Ultimately, no facts were given.
At the same time that I was listening to the diatribe, my mind pulled up a memory of raising my children. I did not recall a specific event; I recalled a recurring scenario. It was the ‘who done it’ archetype of sibling interaction. As a parent, I was on the quest of truth. As a child, my son or daughter was on the mission to circumvent the truth. I was confident that truth would release justice; they were fearful that truth would release justice. The only point upon which we could easily agree was that truth is intrinsically tied to justice.
Truth is the basis for all forward movement in life’s endeavors. Truth is a key component in scientific discoveries, relational stability, and social structures. Postulated theories are tested in scientific laboratories to discover whether or not they are true. Philosophies are tried out in the laboratory of humanity’s social order to reveal their viability. Over time, error is revealed and reality stands. Unreliable and inaccurate information is unprofitable and unsustainable in the arena of human experience.
The primary health of our society is intrinsically tied to truth. Knowledge is imparted by facts. Ignorance is overcome and lies are combatted by truth. It does not bow under the influence of the powerful not betray the needs of the weak. Proverbs instructs us to search out knowledge and understanding (Pr. 2:3), and quantifies these commodities as more valuable than gold and jewels (Pr. 8:10; 20:15). Though not costless to unearth, truth supplies the culture with immeasurable worth. At every level of our existence, we have the commission, responsibility, and honor to communicate truth to the world around us.
Early in the biblical narrative, the reader is exposed to a conversation between the serpent and the first woman. Eve received a report from the serpent, which included misrepresented facts on the nature of God, herself, her present situation, and her future. Assuming that the father of lies had information on par with the Father of Light, she made her decision based upon the Devil’s spin (Gen. 3:1-7). Building her life and earthly culture from lies had disastrous results. Jesus warned that a house built on the sand of falsehood would fall into ruins (Mt. 7:26). Having forsaken the Author of Truth, Adam and Eve placed man upon a quest of the knowledge of truth.
Even today, that quest continues. Truth must be revealed in the family house, in the court house, and in the White House. Over 2500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah released a plea in the form of an edit to the nation of Israel, “Our courts oppose the righteous, and justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the street, and honesty has been outlawed. Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.” (Is. 59:14-15, NIV) Isaiah spoke this lamentation at a time when Israel was standing on the cusp of God’s justice.
My prayer is that our nation, its citizens, and its leaders will not allow truth to be discarded into the street as though it is refuse. My children had to learn the lesson that hiding the truth does not circumvent justice. May our nation recall this pedagogic reality and once again elevate truth as our guiding light for justice.
I have finally had to replace my sunglasses. My ‘good-ole’ faithful designer eyewear had lasted through five seasons. Twice they had been knocked off my face by an ocean wave yet re-discovered floating below the water. Several times the screw, which held the side arm in place, fell out; yet I was able to have them repaired and salvaged. They had been lost and found, treated recklessly by the playful hands of grandbabies, toted to a half-dozen foreign nations, and shoved into suitcases and purses of various shapes and sizes. Yet they survived . . . until several weeks ago. Finally, the frame broke and I was forced to discard my lenses.
I went shopping. I noticed myself sounding like a Dr. Seuss book: “Too big, too small, too dark, too light, too funky, not funky enough.” Of course the price had to be right and the face-complimenting aspect had to be perfect. I asked my husband for his opinion. I must say that he valiantly attempted to tell a woman in the kindest of words how each specimen enhanced her beauty. Obviously, I could not trust his flattering words. But I did have one honest consultant nearby – a mirror. I tried another children’s fable but the ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall; who’s the fairest of them all’ routine yielded nothing but my own reflection and the spectacle that sat on top of my nose.
Then, I found them. The frame was rose-colored. The lenses were rose-colored. They complimented my skin tone. The shape softened the hard angles of my face yet did not over-power the soft curves in my cheeks. Yes – I found them – the perfect replacement at an affordable price.
The first real test of my new sunglasses occurred last week end when I was invited to minister in Chicago. My husband and I loaded our car with all the necessities for a 6-hour road trip and a 4-day meeting. Shoved into my purse were the new sunglasses. Within several hours after our early morning departure, the sun was sufficiently bright that I needed my new shades.
Almost immediately after I donned them, I began to make comments about the beauty of the autumn colors of the trees. “Look at that bright red maple,” I exclaimed. “Wow, look at the hues on that hill.” “How gorgeous are those orange leaves on that sugar maple?” “Did you see that purple-tone on that sweetgum?” Finally, my husband remarked about my remarks. He seemed to think that I was over-stimulated and over-reacting to a lovely, yet not over-the-top landscape. He suggested that the color of my lenses might be having an effect on my vision.
So, I pulled off my new sunglasses. Much to my surprise, the colors all toned down. The red was not vivid red and the orange was not vibrant orange. I returned the glasses to my face and sure enough – more resplendent tones. Off – duller; On – flamboyant; Off – hushed; On – radiant. Oh yeah – the landscape became more colorful through my rose-colored lenses.
That set off a week-end of yokes about me and my rose-colored view of life. It seems that the glasses vicariously expressed my overall approach to living. I am known to my family as the forever Pollyanna. Finding the good in the bad, the possible in the difficult, the hope in the hopeless was a lesson I learned from my parents while growing up. And that set of lenses has never needed to be replaced. I’m not saying that I have never temporarily had them knocked off by a hard-hitting wave of circumstances or that I have not misplaced them from time to time. I’m not suggesting that I haven’t lost a few screws in the way I have viewed my world. I am even aware that traveling upon the highways of life has caused me to shove my optimism into a storage case from time to time. But – when I do decide to wear those glasses, the dull becomes vivid, the mild transforms into intense, and the faded returns to lustrous. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had found his own set of rose-colored lenses called worship when he advised us, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
October arrived and so did the dates for our six-day getaway. Months ago, my husband and I had made the decision to take advantage of an off-season resort special and go on a short vacation. We booked the venue, reserved the dates on our calendars, and bought our airplane tickets. During the ensuing months, we gathered information about the designated area of Florida. We looked at photos of our hotel with its pools and beach, gathered knowledge of sight-seeing options around Marco Island, researched the forecasted weather conditions for early fall in that area, and saved our pennies for the extra amenities we would be unable to resist. We knew what to expect. We were ready.
From the moment we arrived at our condo site, we were thrilled with each and every feature of the property. The staff was courteous and helpful; our room had a big balcony with an ocean view; and the landscaping communicated we had entered a tropical paradise. We were delighted. The pictures may have told us what we would see, but they had not been able to capture the grandeur. While not surprised, we were completely impressed.
Impressed turned into surprised, however, on our first day at the beach. Beautiful coastline, white sands, warm waters, and hot sun – the particulars that are part of an ocean-side experience on Florida’s gulf shores – were beckoning us to partake. We headed right to the water. The level of the surf and power of the waves striking our feet and legs was low. We had relatively no opposition as we waded out chest deep into the Atlantic Ocean. Sea gulls were flying overhead. A sail boat was on the horizon. Other swimmers were all around. The sights and sound, although not surprising, were delightful.
Then, unexpectedly, we encountered a completely unanticipated and unforeseen surprise. Under the surface of the water and all along the ocean’s floor were sand dollars. There, barely visible and nestled into the sand along the bottom were hundreds and hundreds of living sea urchins. We could hardly find a place to set our foot down without stepping on them. We reached down to pick them up and could feel the cilia moving on the underneath of the dollar while seeing the pattern that looks like five petals on a flower on top.
We were enthralled. There, below the surface, was that day’s – no the whole trip’s – most wonderful surprise: life packed into small round circles; complexity of being crammed into a brownish-colored shells; living beauty covered up by the sand. Who would have expected this discovery? We certainly had not anticipated it nor pre-planned to search of it. But, there it was, and we were drawn into the mystery and beauty that was just below the surface.
We lingered for hours floating above the sand dollars, collecting and examining them, returning them to their natural habitat so as to not damage them. I found a few white specimens, which was an indication that the urchin was no longer living. I collected those for souvenirs. In the surreal environment just below the surface, we discovered and enjoyed the surprise of our well-researched and well-planned vacation.
There is legend of the sand dollar in which Christians see the message of Christ. On the dollar’s top, there are five holes that testify to the five piercings that occurred during the crucifixion. The star-shaped spine reminds the viewer of the star from the East that guided the shepherds while the flower etched on the other side appears as a Christmas poinsettia and recalls Christ’s birth. When the shell is broken, five dove-shaped pieces can be found, which are said to represent the peace released by Christ’s atoning work.
Just like the sand dollar was the surprise on our vacation, perhaps the sand dollar along with it legend should cause us all to consider that no matter how well arranged our lives might be, the message of Christ holds a surprise for all who are willing to look below the surface.
Time has a very special way of being our friend. When encumbered by an unbearable work-load, weighted by a burdensome situation, or grieving over one of life’s many disappointments, time may drag; but even if slowly, a new day dawns. That is a promise. One season passes into the next as a winter of despair is replaced by a springtime of new hope.
I remember a few years ago when a bad accident left me with two shattered arms and a long season of pain, recovery, and rehabilitation. Living through it was a nightmare. But, looking back on it, the pain and passion of the moment have faded into just one of the many memories I hold about my life. That is precisely why time is a friend. The past can lose its power to hurt. The present season is the one that demands our time and attention, stimulates our senses with joys and sorrows more vitally than yesterday’s memories, and breathes the breath of life into our being. The present also carries the promise that today is tomorrow’s memory. So even if our current season is less than a happy one, our friend time promises us that this too shall pass.
What about the happy times? Changing seasons mean that we cannot encase a moment, for it is only here to pass. Does time then seem to be our foe because the special evening will end, the baby will grow, the change will occur? Or could time be telling us to pay attention to the moment and to drink in the fullness of life? Time just might be saying, “Thankfully receive, gratefully partake, and joyfully relish for you will not pass this way again.” If that is time’s advice, then we have been honored with wise counsel. To ignore today while wishing for tomorrow is folly. Opportunities are wasted; memories are not made; and life is not lived.
Every season withholds one aspect of life while offering to us another. Snow and flowers never come together in nature. The season for the strawberries is not the season for the pumpkins and corn. The children are not out of our hair while they are in our home, but they can be out of our home while never being out of our heart. The freshness of romance ends, but love’s enduring commitment arises. The labor of building finishes in time to usher in the responsibility of maintaining. Time passes; seasons unfold; and with each, life comes new and fresh again.