Anyone who has ever hiked a significant distance knows how much of a “trudge” it can be. I love nature walks and find the prospect of a hike to be a pleasure. I know how the beginning of a day of hiking can be full of excitement, how the sights and sounds that surround you can bring deep joy, wonder, and appreciation. I also know that when certain conditions start to play themselves out – muscles getting tired, weather conditions being less welcoming, starting to become thirsty or hungry, difficult terrain becoming a challenge – the beauty around you can start to “glaze over” and it becomes harder to keep putting one foot in front of another. The spring in the step gives way to “trudging.”
In the A.A. Big Book there is a wonderful line about spirituality that appears at the end of a chapter entitled, “A Vision for You.” In describing the fellowship of recovery it says, “We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny” (italics mine). What a phrase! One does not usually link “Happy Destiny” with “trudging.” At the same time the connection is clear. If reaching the destination of recovery was all joy and ease, no one would need a fellowship to help with it. You’ll end up going to meetings on days when you would rather not. You will make phone calls when you would rather not. You will put time and energy into following A.A.’s steps when you would rather not. Some of those steps even involve some significant emotional pain. Trudging and Happy Destiny go together.
Sometimes in matters of faith, however, we have trouble making that connection. After all, we associate faith with things like comfort, reassurance, and positive spiritual experiences. I’m afraid we are even guilty of “marketing” faith that way. Many people turn to faith because they want to feel better. That is not a bad motivation. But it should be made clear that sometimes the road to feeling better passes through feeling worse. In a broken world how could it be any different? Indeed, Jesus says (Luke 14:28), “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it?” Well, it’s never true that we don’t have what it takes to live a life of faith – we have God to help us. But are we willing to trudge?
Years ago I ran across a book title by Eugene Peterson that I never forgot: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. (The book, a reflection on a group of Psalms, is still in print, published by Inter Varsity Press). It is true that the grace of God is immediately and freely available to us. What is also true is that it does not automatically translate into instantly feeling better. It isn’t really about that at all. Jesus will lead us on a journey that transforms our lives around God’s motivations and direction. It is a long obedience in the same direction. Jesus will sometimes walk us into a storm rather than avoiding it. When life throws obstacles at us, Jesus will not always make an escape, but will rather trudge with us through them. If we are always searching for a quick fix, we will never find Happy Destiny because the road to it leads through trudging. It leads through lots of things, joyful and difficult. But there is no better road.
- Rev. Charlie