Good Evening my fellow Tanners!
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Taken from the book of Jeremiah chapter 6 verse 16
During my years at Woburn High, I was on the road to destruction. There were deficits in my life. For one I lacked direction, I did not know where I was headed. I left here and went to UMass Amherst, not looking for an education nor a party nor inspiration. My intention was to go somewhere to die by my own hand at the tender age of 18. I felt dead inside, so I thought, why go on living.
Now standing before you 30 years later, I am grateful for the life God has given me. UMass was the beginning of the end. My soul had not just been restless but aching for something more. I believe that each and everyone of us in this room inherently has a desire to make a difference in this world. My story is not one of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and getting on with it. Even though I am a native New Englander, as self-sufficient and hearty as the next guy. Humiliated and humbled by my circumstances I cried out for help and help came.
The first order of business was to get sober and the second was to get out of dodge. My sobriety was on shaky ground living at home. For the first time in many years I wanted to live. I was not crazy about being sober but, if I wanted to live, I had to get and stay sober. Entering recovery, I was turned off by the “but for the Grace of God” and what seemed to be religious stuff, however I was desperate. I was able to believe that others believed and eventually I came to believe. I came to the understanding that the program was spiritual not religious. That my sickness was of body, mind, and spirit. If I wanted healing then I needed a spiritual remedy.
My feet had set out on a new course, one that I hadn’t necessarily chosen but one which was laid out before me. A path is well-worn and the one on which I found myself has been traveled upon by many a pilgrim, as the prophet Jeremiah called it, “the ancient paths.” I knelt at the feet of my Creator naked and surrendered but I also asked for wisdom and strength to walk in this way. The great mystery of the spiritual life is that we are called to it, but we are also responsible to answer and to live out the called life.
At this time, you might be thinking “she’s gone religious, or Jewish, or Christian.” It is true, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and for almost 28 years I have been doing my best to find and walk in the ancient paths. There have been trials and detours along the way but I keep discovering the path of life is to find the good way. And it was not meant to be traveled alone. We have our fellow travelers, keeping us company and encouraging us on this Pilgrim Highway. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a work for it and its yours, kind of life. Jesus is the Living Water and the Bread of Life and he freely gives to all who believe. Jesus said, I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life. He has given me life! It is a gift and walking in the Way is evidence of having received the gift.
So, what does this Way look like? It is not a set of rules, do’s and DON’Ts. It is not being a goodie two shoes or a self-righteous know it all. The Way is paved with Loving Sacrifice. Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this, then to laid down his life for his friends.” The apostle Paul says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And Peter, the apostle said, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a coverup for evil, but living as servants of God.” The Way of the Ancient Paths is the way of Love and yes, it requires us to serve but also to remember that we are a free people. Free to enjoy life. Free to give to others without expected anything in return because in Jesus Christ, we have been given EVERYTHING we need. Free to experience the JOY of being in the stream of life.
This way, this path laid out with love, sacrifice, joy and freedom is a solid place for handling the sorrows and the pains of life. Some say, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional,” I strongly disagree. Suffering is a part of life and it will visit every human being sooner or later. We live in a society that has a strong aversion to pain. I’m not saying every mother ought to give birth naturally, with nothing to alleviate the pain and every person dying of bone cancer ought to suffer to the end without comfort measures. What I am saying is that we have to face and to some extent accept the pain and walk through it, but we don’t have to do it alone. We can ask for help and receive it. We can offer help and show compassion to those around us.
We live in a “24 hour, don’t stop, always plugged in” kind of world and burn out and, in extreme cases, suicide seems to be the only place to find the rest we need. We were not built to be on the go all the time every day. The path you are on today, will it provided this much needed rest, not just for your soul, but your body and mind as well? Who in your life asks you about the condition of your soul? and when they say, “How are you?” they really mean it. Where are you on this path of life today? Is it clear to you?
Let me leave you with a thought from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress written centuries ago:
“As Pliable and Christian find themselves walking together toward the narrow gate, we see the stark contrast between the two pilgrims. One is burdened; the other is not. One is clutching a book that is a light to his path. The other is guideless. One is on the journey in pursuit of deliverance from besetting sins and rest for his soul. The other is on the journey in order to obtain future delights that temporarily dazzle his mind. One is slow and plodding because of his great weight and a sense of his own unrighteousness; the other is light-footed and impatient to obtain all the benefits of Heaven. One is in motion because his soul has been stirred up to both fear and hope; the other is dead to any spiritual fears,
longings, or aspirations. One is seeking God; the other is seeking self-satisfaction. One is a true pilgrim; the other is false and fading.”