The Stories We Tell
Q: What should you do when you come upon a fork in the road?
A: Bend down and pick it up.
The old laughline gently mocks the high seriousness with which we usually approach momentous life decisions. Reared on pieces of half-remembered commencement addresses (“Life is a Crossroads”) and fragments of Robert Frost poetry (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by . . .), we come up to the choices about whom to marry, which profession to pursue, or where to relocate in retirement with melodrama more suited to bad films than the quietness that ought to mark the life of an obedient Christian.
We want the roiling clouds to part; we want a shaft of light to spotlight our place upon the path; we want some thundering heavenly affirmation of the significance of our free will. And when, as often happens, none of these appear when we believe they should, we draw up long lists, play “pro” and “con,” and open Bibles randomly to see if miraculous providence might point us to a text.
The lives—and choices—that we make as followers of the Risen One will likely have more of the character of the Emmaus Road than the Damascus Road about them.
All this is often owing to the stories that we tell. To put it simply, we tell peculiar stories as though they were the norm, imagining our lives will somehow echo those of Biblical characters who slew giants, walked on water, or confronted Baal’s prophets. The Word is clear: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NRSV). But that doesn’t mean we should expect the drama of charging toward Goliath or calling fire down from heaven as part of everyday discipleship. The lives—and choices—that we make as followers of the Risen One will likely have more of the character of the Emmaus Road than the Damascus Road about them.
That means, among so many other things, that we will more often learn the will of God for our lives as those two obscure disciples on the day of Jesus’ resurrection learned it—traveling together, over time, informed by “Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27, NRSV). Instead of anticipating, as with Saul, the voice from heaven and the shaft of light that temporarily blinds us, we should more naturally expect that we will come to understand Christ’s will as we covenant to walk and talk with the Lord and with each other. The Gospel of Luke tells us that it was at the end of much traveling together that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31).
God has placed us as believers within specific faith communities, and so arranged our choices and our lives that we can learn His purposes for us in both faithful conversation as well as private meditation. The insights that we gain from personal devotion and prayer are vital, even crucial. But they must also be tested against the broader insight the Spirit is giving to the other disciples Christ has called to travel with us. Listening well—paying attention—to the honest believers also on this journey is so much a better way to learn the will of God than inserting pins in the family Bible or placing specious fleeces before the Lord.
So here’s a call for all of us to be the better listeners who acknowledge that other minds than our own may be moved and shaped by what the Spirit knows is best. God’s remnant isn’t merely a support group to lend us courage on the journey home. In mercy, He surrounds us with good conversation and prayer partners through whom He speaks when other ways seem silent.
Still wrestling with a big, momentous choice? Go walking with a brother or a sister in the faith. Out there—on the Emmaus Road—the Risen One will join you. Your heart will burn within you—not with anxiety, but peace. “Your ears shall hear a word behind [or beside] you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isa. 30:21).