Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tough Choices

When we're trying to encourage our boys to make good moral choices, we use a lot of "path" imagery (e.g., Psalm 27:11). But I've come to realize that we need to make sure that we're not painting a picture for the boys of rose petals and gentle breezes and marine skies along that right path. Because sometimes there are land mines and thickets along the good path, too. Other times we will find ourselves, quite frankly, off track where corrective measures follow painful choices.

We found ourselves stuck and nearly halted in traffic the other day. We'd gone after school to a bookstore in Lewisville and were on the early end of rush hour on the highway. But traffic was moving in slow motion. "Must be an accident," I speculated. Sure enough, as we passed a strip of familiar restaurants off to the right, we could see that a huge 18-wheeler had turned the parking lot of the Macaroni Grill into a junk yard. Cars were compressed like squeezed accordions and I prayed that the people involved by some miracle could have survived.

Turns out, there were no injuries at all. The driver had sustained a medical crisis of some sort that made him lose control of his truck. While he still had a breath of functionality, he made a split-second decision to careen his truck to the right and take out a phalanx of parked cars. If he'd gone left, instead, he would have plowed into Dallas highway rush hour commuters. So his decision, though it proved costly to property and restaurant income, undoubtedly saved several if not many lives. This is a case, I told the kids, of when the right decision proves better than the wrong one yet both options resulted in distress.

In Luke 14:25, we find Jesus en route to Jerusalem where he pauses to teach a swelling crowd that there is a cost to following Him and that they are wise to assess this cost before signing on. In verses 31-33, He relates to the people a parable about a king who wants to wage war against another king and emphasizes the importance of planning ahead:

Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14: 31(b)

If the war-minded king determines that he can't win the battle, Jesus teaches, he must surrender:

If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. (Luke 14: 32)

The point of this story is to show would-be followers that discipleship requires an all-out surrender to Christ, and there will be suffering and rejection and pain and abandonment of that which glorifies the self. Jesus wants people to know this up front so that they can assess whether or not they will are willing to submit to the burdens of discipleship.

But let's get inside the mind of the earthly king for a moment as we explore the subject of choices, in general. Within this parable, we have a person who has two possible courses of action or "paths." The first choice, to clip at the heels of the bigger dog, would most assuredly result in personal destruction. The second choice, which amounts to rolling over with a whimper, would result in enemy domination but, presumably, the preservation of one's life. Two choices which involve pain and sacrifice, yet one is clearly preferable to the other.

Sometimes in life, we are faced with a choice of two paths. Oftentimes, the benefits of being on the "right" path versus the "wrong" path are strikingly obvious. If you steal a car, you're going to jail. That's a no brainer.

Other times, it really comes down to making the best choice along the path we're on. If we find ourselves on the wrong road, by victimization or accident or our own personal sin, the only way back to the right track involves a decision that will result in pain. Though it appeared he was not at fault, the driver of the truck that plowed into a parking lot was the instrument of mayhem. But his choice to crash one way versus another, though calamitous, undoubtedly saved lives.

So what's my point? If you're reading this and it's sounding like I'm making the case for choosing the nicest bad behavior or a "little" versus a "bigger" sin, that's not the case. But I'm enough of a broken vessel and realist to know that all of us and all of our children will find ourselves at various points on paths that are torturous, either by our own actions or the engagement and interference of others. God allows people to wind down these roads and oftentimes we are stronger and more mature, and our consciences are fortified and sensitized for having been challenged and affronted. Learning from our mistakes can make future choices--the right ones--easier.

In all of my "right path" and "wrong path" discussions with my kids up to this point, I've focused on the absolutes: If you do "x," you will ruin you life. If you choose "y," you will stand to benefit. While there is always truth in this lesson, more and more, I see the need to build upon this instruction with the message of choosing sometimes as best we can in a given circumstance, recognizing that the right choice may have uncertain or even painful consequences.

What's our guide on the "bad path" patches? It's certainly not our human nature or reasoning, which will always drive us further into the deep, dark woods. It is love of God and one another--the twined cord that bundles God's Commandments--that will right a wrong course, making our paths ultimately straight.

My Dream Band (today, anyway!)... Chad Kroeger, David Cook, Rick Astley (I know, I know...) Chrissy Hynde on vocals... Mark Knopfler and Carlos Santana on guitar... Stewart Copeland on drums... Rick Wakeman on keyboards.

1 comment:

Doc Op said...

What a powerful illustration by way of the trucker man.

Kirk