An Allegory for Easter

boots

Dear Will:

Last Saturday morning I headed out to Weir Canyon for an easy morning hike. It had rained the night before, so I knew there was the possibility (or probability?) that the trail would be closed. But I was in the mood for a hike, so I did as I pleased and hoped for the best. When I pulled up, I was delighted to see that the trail was indeed open and that there was only one other car already parked at the trailhead on Hidden Canyon Road.

I chose the clockwise route this time, which features a short incline right out of the gate. The ground was still wet, but it was firm as I had hoped, so it seemed that everything was coming together according to plan. For about 30 feet, that is. I saw a couple of muddy skid marks where someone ahead of me had slipped. And then a couple more. Before long I was making skid marks of my own as the grippy tread of my Terrex hikers filled with mud and transformed into slippy tread instead. I quickly realized the futility of what I had undertaken and turned back to the car, practically skating down the slope on shoes now rendered twice as heavy (and nearly twice as wide) by the accumulating sludge. It was then that I spied and understood the trailside rock where others had smeared great glops of earthen goo in a quest to rescue their muddy soles.

Once on flatter, firmer ground, I did a bit of that smearing myself—on rocks, on the curb beside my car. I was forced to take the shoes off and bang them together as you might have done, flinging clumps of sticky clay in all directions and sending shocks up through my arms and shoulders. Ultimately I was transformed into tantrum-throwing percussionist, slamming down one shoe and then the other on the asphalt in a jarring and mostly successful effort to clear the Vibram crags in my heavy-laden trail shoes.

It was, perhaps, the dumbest of hikes. If I’m honest, I had made this same, post-rain mistake on this same trail once before, but in spite of knowing better I had insisted on trying to make things work my way anyway. But once I came to my senses, I made my way back home, parked my car, and headed out on the familiar streets of my neighborhood. The view was less dramatic and the experience less glamorous, but the roads were clear and the sun was out and it was lovely. The rains had turned the skies into the kind of blue we rarely see in car-crazy California—a blue that was intensified by random, puffy clouds that hung like cotton balls above the glistening trees. Had I chosen this route from the get-go, I would certainly have covered more ground—while increasing my pleasure and reducing the hardship—but because of my ill-conceived foray into the muck, I appreciated the clear, unobstructed path all the more.

Perhaps you’ve done this same thing yourself—chosen an enticing path even though, down in your heart, you knew better. Perhaps in consequence you too have found yourself stumbling along, slowed by the muck that you have accumulated along the way. And perhaps you’ve felt a similar desire to be rid of the mess and to find a clearer, more established path.

Perhaps you have also thought, as I do at this time of year: Thank God for the message of hope that Easter brings. Thank God for a Savior who has made it possible for even the grimiest among us to turn ourselves around and clear our muddy souls. And thank God for the clearer path that the Gospel of Jesus Christ illuminates for all of us. It truly is the better way. Way better.

PW

Photo: John Barwood Photography

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A Letter to Myself

Dear Will:

You know that feeling you get when you are working too many hours and getting too little sleep? When you have too much to do and too little time to do it? When you do none of the things that matter particularly well? When you arrive at the end of the day—day after day—feeling as if you haven’t accomplished half of what you needed to or any of what you wanted to?

That’s how I feel.

I’m reminded of a backpacking trip I took several years ago over Piute Pass in the High Sierras. We were planning to stay for a week beside the Golden Trout Lakes, a breathtaking spot some 11,000 feet above sea level. Because of the length of our stay, we were all carrying 35-40 pounds of gear and supplies. The hike in would take most of the day.

It wasn’t so bad at first. Fortunately, the incline was not steep, so we never found ourselves working extra hard. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view or refill our water bottles, none of us in a great hurry to “arrive.” The trouble was that some in our party were not in especially good shape. Their stops became more frequent, and as the “sweeper” in our party I couldn’t go any faster than our slowest hiker. Consequently, the load on my back began to take its toll. By and by, I wanted nothing more than to drop my pack.

I remember the almost out-of-body experience I had when we finally arrived at the Golden Trout Lakes. When at last I could remove my heavy load, I felt like I might float away. I felt almost like an astronaut on the moon, so light was I after carrying that load for hour after hour. What a relief! What joy! What ecstasy!

I have often thought of how many lessons on the Atonement were contained within that hiking experience. Above all, I have thought about how Christ’s suffering for us is in very fact a promise to carry our burdens for us—as if he were offering to shoulder our pack, to give us the gift of relief. His life and death embodied his eternal invitation: “Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Ultimately, it was Jesus’ compassion—his willingness to suffer with us and for us—that best expressed His great love for us.

These lines from a favorite hymn also come to mind, offering good counsel to one such as I who is weighed down by life:

How gentle God’s commands! How kind his precepts are!
Come, cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.
Beneath his watchful eye, his Saints securely dwell;
That hand which bears all nature up shall guard his children well.
Why should this anxious load press down your weary mind?
Haste to your Heav’nly Father’s throne and sweet refreshment find.
His goodness stands approved, unchanged from day to day;
I’ll drop my burden at his feet and bear a song away.

Hmmm. That’s excellent advice for someone like me. Perhaps this time I should mail this letter to myself. . . .

PW

Just $160 Gazillion Short

Dear Will:

My children have the misfortune of being raised by a guy who doesn’t have a clue how to become wealthy. The making money part I can do. It’s the accumulating of money that has always baffled me.

No one is more upset about this fact than my son Luke, who now finds himself just weeks away from high school graduation. Luke is scary-smart, and except for a pathological distaste for math homework, he does very well in school. He also has the good fortune of doing very well on standardized tests. Add to that the fact that he has spent six years at the Orange County High School of the Arts (where he receives 10 hours each week in after-school creative writing classes) and you get the idea that he shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into college.

To validate that theory, Luke applied for admission to Claremont McKenna College, the ultra-prestigious private university about a half hour north of here. How prestigious is it? It’s generally regarded as one of the top 15 liberal arts schools in the country. There are only 1,150 students there—TOTAL—meaning that it admits only around 260 students a year (maybe 10% or 11% of those who apply). Needless to say, if you can get admitted to Claremont McKenna, it’s a big deal.

Well, Luke got in. I don’t know if I have ever seen him more excited. And I couldn’t have been more pleased. That is, before I got the letter from the Financial Aid Office. It will cost roughly $50,000 for Luke to attend CMC, they say, including tuition, living expenses, and incidentals. But not to worry, they told me. They would throw in $9,300 to help us out.

Ninety-three hundred dollars. A generous offer, perhaps, but it still leaves me $40,000+ short. And that’s just in Year One.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $160,000 set aside to send my kid to the college of his choice. In fact, I don’t have $16,000. I tried pleading my case to the school, but they weren’t about to contribute enough to make it possible. Luke, of course, is devastated; and I feel as though I arrived at one of those critical dad-moments and was completely unprepared.

But not just unprepared. Inadequate. Helpless. Having fallen so far short of the mark, I found myself unable to conceive of a solution to help him out. I want so badly to send him to this great school, but I can’t pull it off. It is not within my power to do so.

In the many hours of soul-searching I have spent over the last few weeks, I have more than once reflected on the incomprehensible miracle of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In this life, we cannot begin to approach our Heavenly Father’s divine nature. No matter how hard we try, we will be so unholy that we could not dwell in His presence. Christ, in his infinite love for us, makes reconciliation possible, enabling us to overcome that which we could never overcome on our own. It is as if he came along and paid the $160 gazillion for me. Not because I deserve it (perhaps, in fact, because I don’t). It is His free gift to me—to all of us—which he grants in exchange for our best effort to live the gospel and show our faith in him. No amount of hard work and effort will make us worthy of that gift—rather it is through grace that He makes His Atonement available to us.

Perhaps that analogy is a little strained, but it seems very real to me. This painful, disappointing experience has deepened my understanding of and gratitude for that Great Act of Love. And for that I am grateful. It doesn’t help Luke pay for college, but it does help.

PW