God, examine me and know my mind.
Test me and know all my worries.
Make sure that I am not going the wrong way.
Lead me on the path that has always been right.
-Psalm 139:23-24 (ERV)
Early this morning I finished reading 127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It's a 400 page autobiographical retelling of Aron Ralston's harrowing survival experience 20 years ago in Blue John Canyon, Utah. Aron was hiking alone down a technical canyon when a rock he was climbing down dislodged, trapping his wrist against the narrow canyon wall for 6 days with almost no food and water. It was later turned into a film called 127 Hours, starring James Franco.
It's an incredible story, and *spoiler alert* Ralston leaves a piece of himself in the canyon in order to finally break free. The self-amputation description lasted for about 12 pages last night as I lay in bed gasping and nearly dry heaving beside my wife, who had absolutely no interest in hearing me offer excerpts (which I willingly shared anyway). But hey, now I know what to do to if I ever find myself trapped in the woods behind our house.
Throughout the book, Ralston would tell stories of his other adventures. Countless times he tempted death while summiting the high peaks of Colorado in the dead of winter, alone. He was trapped in an avalanche once. He nearly fell off an ice shelf on another occasion. Story after story revealed that he had lived his life on the edge while chasing adventure. And while his freak accident in Blue John Canyon was not intended to be a high risk experience, this one ended up being the one that truly brought him to the liminal space of his mortality.
As Ralston begins to lose hope and his body shuts down, he turns on his camera to record final words to his family. He tries to communicate how much he cares about them and wishes he had spent more time with them, but it also comes with a confession:
"I chose this. I chose all of this — this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. I’ve been moving towards it my whole life."
As he looked over the trajectory of where he had been heading, it moved undoubtedly toward where he landed. Higher and higher risk, more individual self-reliance, and more risky endeavors created a trail that ended in catastrophe. He hadn't even told anyone which canyon he was hiking on that fateful weekend. The story that happened to him there could have been written before it even occurred. And he now admitted that he could see it coming as clear as day. He had been setting himself up for this.
That's a worthwhile lens through which we can look at our own spiritual formation. As we follow the Jesus way in a world that moves us toward many norms that look nothing like Jesus, we need to regularly pause and reflect. Where is it that my life is heading? What's the story that could already be written because of the direction that I'm moving? Is Jesus shaping me to become more caring, more attentive, and more humble? Is my phone causing me to become more disconnected from my family and what really matters to me? Am I developing rhythms that isolate me from others, or bring me into relationships? Are the things that occupy my time and energy and heart moving toward God's kingdom as Jesus reveals it? Or do they involve my own comfort, my own financial security, and my own self-protection or self-advancement? Where are the destinations of my current paths?
We are always on a trajectory. And if we learn to be still, we can discern it. And if we bring it before Jesus, we can alter it, with his help. And it can save our marriages, our friendships, our hearts and minds... and our very souls.
This sort of reflection requires honesty and humility from us. And it also requires trust that Jesus has grace and power to lead us in new directions when we need it, free of condemnation or guilt. And finally, courage to move.
Discipleship is about a lifelong re-orientation towards Jesus. We don't have to reach crisis before we shift course. What's your direction today?
Jesus, orient my path today toward the things that are truly significant in your eyes.