I was struck recently by a phrase I read in a Publishers Weekly review of a book about children. It said that children were “growing up in a world without signposts.” It’s one of those statements that stirs our frustrations and tempts us to jump on the bandwagon of doom and gloom and all-is-lost. We give a collective sigh, purse our lips, and shake our heads – no signposts anymore for our kids. But after some thought, I realized that the claim simply isn’t true. We have a guide, a bright North Star. A signpost does exist. It always has.
Of course, if there’s a signpost, it must point to something. Next rest stop, ten miles. Scenic overlook, next right. City Center, exit 1 mile. So obviously, the signpost we’re looking for is the one that will direct us toward where we want to go. Which brings us to the crucial question: where, exactly, do we want to go? Where do we want our children to go? I’m asking not within the framed sense of the new-year’s-resolution but in the unframed sense of life as a whole, the birth-to-death journey. Life is unmapped. We choose our steps. And to recognize the signpost, we have to decide what we value most in life. Where, exactly, do we want to go?
Love, the soul in full bloom.
Joy, the soul’s laughter.
Peace, the calm hum of the soul.
Patience, the soft breath of the soul.
Kindness, the soul’s outstretched hand.
Goodness, the soul’s high road.
Balance, the soul, centered.
Self-control, the soul’s mirror.
Grace, the soul’s gift.
Mercy, the soul set free.
Beauty, the delight of the soul.
Wisdom, the soul’s treasure chest.
Gratitude, the hearth fire of the soul.
Generosity, the soul’s open arms.
Hope, the high window of the soul.
Courage, the soul, face forward.
Confidence, the soul settled.
Endurance, the second wind of the soul.
Respect, the soul’s bow.
Insight, the soul’s candle in the dark.
Vision, the soul’s mountaintop view.
This, of course, is not a destination in the sense of a place or a point in time but is instead a state of being that transcends time and place. In fact – read the list again – it describes God. Which means it also describes the kind of faith that I want to grow into as I journey through life – a faith of joy and peace and courage and creativity . . . But the list is not exclusive to the faith that embraces God. It’s universal to humanity. It describes the deepest of our desires, the highest of our aspirations, the noblest of our actions.
There’s plenty of “sound and fury” in the world to distract us from our destination and obscure the signpost. But the signpost is there, immovable and unchanging. We can ignore it, bypass it, or claim to follow it even as we go the opposite direction. But we can’t change it. So what is it?
It’s Love. As in loving kindness. Gracious love. The kind of love that treats others the way we want to be treated. The kind of love that’s open-hearted and honest.
If our children haven’t seen the signpost of Love, maybe it’s because we haven’t done a very good job of pointing to it. Or maybe pointing is all we’ve done. Maybe with all good intentions, we’ve made faith way too hard, adding layer on layer of do’s and don’ts and here’s-what-this-means and here’s-what-that-means, when all along the message has always and ever been one thing:
The message of the signpost is simple and clear: God is love, so love yourself and your neighbor. Do good to whomever you come into contact with, in whatever way you can. Love this world into being a better place for everyone, and you’ll be honoring the One who made the world. Love is not a matter of talk but of action, of being living examples of loving kindness to everyone, of heading the direction of grace and staying the course.
Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much. Love and faith are perhaps the hardest practices we’ll ever attempt. Because life is unmapped, even with a signpost, we deal with a lot of uncertainty.
“You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.” – Flannery O’Connor –
One thing we can trust: grace-filled Love is a dependable signpost. Love is our guide. It’s our bright North Star.
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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy pexels.com.