It is a dark, cold, blustery morning in Graham, North Carolina. From where I sit, I can hear the wind in the trees, the rain hitting the windows and siding, and the water under the tires of cars going past. I can also see the treelimbs blowing and the raindrops on the window. But over the rooftops down the street, I can see that miles away the sun is breaking through a storm cloud.
It is so easy to get fixed on the present funk instead of the future promise. It is dangerous too. A few years ago, Susan and I took a vacation in the NC Blueridge Mountains where I photographed a good bit of the scenery along the Parkway. The problem with driving, however, is that you miss out on so much of the scenery. When Susan drives, I see things for the first time that I never saw though I’d driven past them hundreds of times. Still, I try to catch a quick peek of the beauty from time to time while driving. Traveling in the mountains can make this practice particularly treachorous.
Snapped on the Blueridge Parkway in October 2004
While enjoying the briefest glimpse of grandeur, a driver can be so distracted as to not notice until too late that the road just ahead veers around a bend. It is also easy enough to simply drift off the road. Along many parts of the Parkway, this would mean disaster. Gratefully, knowing this possibility, the authorities have lowered speed limits along the Parkway to 45mph. This keeps us safe from, not only ourselves, but from those motorists who must drive 70-90mph. They stick to the Interstate highways.
The joys of life—be they fall foliage, friends, a full belly, a life of relative ease, or simply relatively courteous drivers—can be disastrous distractions though, if we’re not careful. The Apostle Paul learned to appreciate privation and suffering because these kept his eyes on the road.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Philippians 3:7-9a ESV)
Of course, suffering itself may become a distraction. If I begin to focus on what a good sufferer I am becoming, my eyes have strayed to the scenery. The point of using suffering a loss is:
…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him… (Philippians 3:10 ESV)
I don’t want to be an ascetic for the sake of being disciplined or virtuous. Embracing poor health or lack of any other thing can, however, be for the disciple of Jesus a new way of following him. If I keep my eyes on the One who stands just before me on this road, suffering becomes a method of remembering what is truly important. It is too easy to focus on the loss, to get stuck in grief and sickness. Instead, these losses must become gains. That which so often blurs life must become the agent that brings focus. When I run off the road, as I will sometimes, I must then refocus, making Christ my joyous aim—
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I [shall] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14 ESV)