Diets. Relationships. Faith.
What do they all have in common?
At surface level, nothing. Look a little deeper and you will most likely see that when approached with a faulty understanding of progress they are weights on your ankles.
In the few years that I have been on this earth, more specifically, my college years, what I have learned is that in my generation, the central view on progress is a linear understanding of progress. That is to say, that progress is defined as moving in a straight line from point A to point B; often times as fast as possible. Progress in that sense is then seen as unidirectional.
A quick look into American culture and the societal values of this time seem to be the cause of this interpretation. Progress is seen as forward movement into the “successful”, as defined as being this abstract notion of gain/profit which is void of loss; while all else is seen as a setback, in it’s most negative sense and ultimately as a failure.
I cannot speak for society as a whole and even when speaking of the American culture I run the risk of painting with too broad a brush, but what if this society moved away from such an approach and adopted an ideology which allowed for “wiggle room” along the path towards “success”? Is progress a race? If not, as I strongly believe, where did this idea come from in which progress must be seen as an uphill path towards your goals, devoid of steep slopes and valleys interspersed throughout? Why is the idea of success tied to material prosperity? If success is seen as a straight shot between where you are and where you want to be, what do we do with the times and the moments which are off the beaten path towards point B?
Where do times of momentary failure fit in the plan for success? Where does suffering fit? Are we to discard these moments as useless? Are we to forsake complete diet plans because we messed up somehow? Are we to “can” a relationship because we aren’t l butterflies at all times of the waking day? Do we discard a friend who doesn’t reciprocate as is expected? Do we stop seeking God because we are not perfect saints? Do we cease to struggle with faith and reason because it is a difficult endeavor?
We have a problem, ladies and gentlemen, and it is ingrained too deeply into our culture; but I am starting to see a shift. Slowly, in all of the circles my life engages in, I am seeing an awakening.
In keeping with the metaphor of the path between point A and point B being a road, what if the journey to point B is like a winding road that goes up a mountain, down into a valley, over a gorge on a bridge, travels through muck and mud (which you may get stuck in), only to find out you took a wrong turn and ended at point T. What if instead of simply getting side tracked on your way to point B you went in the exact opposite direction of point B? I strongly believe that every step we take is progress, even standing still is progress.Every “wrong step”, every backward movement, every plan left unrealized, every deviation is progress. As long as there is air in my lungs, as long as you take a breath of air, you are progressing. Death is the only blockade that can stifle progress.
Laughter, sobs, smiles, tears, frowns, giggles and let downs, happiness and suffering, sorrow and joy. All. each and every one of them is chiseling perfection onto the road being paved by your choices. Happiness may come and go. Plans may come to fruition or fall apart. It is all progress; for progress is to be understood as dynamic. With every second that goes by you have yet another opportunity to learn. That which is “good” and brings happiness, can be a piece to success and progress; but failure and suffering can just as equally be valued as a victory.
In my opinion, a major reason behind our denunciation of suffering as a viable step in progress and victory is our fixation-our obsession- with feeling good and being happy. It is an unseen hypocrisy, that I too find myself guilty of holding. I embrace the fickleness of emotions as a good thing, when they make me feel good; but denounce them as soon as they make me (us) uncomfortable. And in thinking this way we do at least two things that contradict all that we are to imitate and preach. We down play the Passion (suffering) of Christ and his sacrifice, and we do those who suffer a very big disservice.
To not make room for suffering and apparent setbacks and failures, on the road to success we minimize and even declare useless the mission of restoration and re-creation of Jesus. And in doing so we destroy the message of “God with us” that draws the suffering to Christ. In freeing ourselves of the bondage we believe suffering and setbacks bring, we enslave those who are learning from their misfortune.
So what are we to do? How can we remedy this twisted sense of what success and prosperity is?
Let’s embrace the roller-coaster of life. Lets stop being afraid of the setbacks. Let’s remember, that especially for the follower of Christ we were called to pick up our cross, and the cross of our neighbors. A cross that isn’t sanded down, padded and equipped with wheels, but a cross that is 100lbs of splintery wood, strapped to the body of one who is beaten and broken, to be carried up and down hillsides into valleys, to finally rest on a mountaintop. It is this seeming message of brokenness, pain, anguish, and death that ushered in the greatest story of success known to mankind.