Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Line

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Those are the some of the lyrics to Johnny Cash's famous song, "I Walk The Line". Anyone who is remotely a fan of country music knows its a song about staying faithful. But, as I tend to do on this blog, I'm going to take that idea ninety degrees from where you think it's going, and it'll have nothing to do with music. You, wise reader, knew that already though, didn't you?

I was sitting there yesterday in that in-between state, somewhere between undirected mental drivel and truly focused communicative prayer when a realization struck me. I'd been contemplating why I have problems with some habitual issues that seem to plague me every time I think I'm really making progress in the spiritual life. It was like a picture drawn in my mind, a picture of a line, and me afraid to cross it.

That line is one, I realized, that we all draw in life - "I will go this far, and no farther". We draw them all the time - "I'll eat this healthy but the rest is for granola-heads" or "I'll exercise a little, but I'm just too busy to keep in good shape". Or, "I think this is holy enough for me". It's that last one that gets us, because as soon as we draw that line we quickly kick dirt over it so we can pretend it's not there. "God's not calling me to be a saint, this is good enough" we say. But we know that line is there, and we know right where it is.

Very often, right after drawing that line our reaction is not to look across it to see how much further we can and are called to go, but to turn around and nervously applaud ourselves for how far we have come. "Certainly this is a good place," we say, "God will understand - He made me." Once we've convinced ourselves that we're okie dokie here we move on and pretend we never drew the line. We'll move around, back and forth, up and down, but always keeping a subconscious eye out for that line.

One day, maybe, if we're lucky and haven't been paying attention, we might discover that we've crossed that line quite by accident. If we're really lucky, we just might find that we're actually okay here. But almost invariably we will draw ourselves another line and repeat the whole process. Sometimes we'll make up our mind to cross that line because we have a momentary glimpse of how arbitrary it is. More often than not though it's like resistance running - you can only go so far and then that line you've attached yourself to will snap you back, often times on your duff in a cloud of dust.

So I've sat here most of my life now, sidled up against this line, seeing just where it does and doesn't go. Strange, isn't it, that I should inspect a line I drew myself? I've fooled myself for a long time that it's an unbreakable line, that I'm just stuck where I am, that I didn't draw that line, but I know better. I've always known better. I drew that line, I decided how far I'd go, how holy I'd be willing to be. I've even stepped across it from time to time, but I always left that line there. The line has almost come to be a sort of comfort to me, like having a built in excuse or a reason not to try too hard. It's like being able to blame the training wheels when you crash your bike.

The time, I think, has come to take the training wheels off. To grab the eraser and get rid of that line. It's not going to be easy, and it certainly won't be comfortable, but you know what? The great story of the faith, an ineffable beauty of what we have been given is ... we're not doing this on our own. It's time not just to walk this line, but to walk right across it and walk that line God has laid out for us instead of our own.

So the question, dear reader, is where is your line? And ... would you like to borrow an eraser?