The older I get, and the longer I walk this walk of faith, the more I realize that the "journeys" of this life really don't come to an end, they just transition from one leg to another, with perhaps a little rest in between or along the way.
The Lord gave me a dream more than a year ago now. (And yes, I believe the Lord still speaks in dreams.) In the dream Neal and I were traveling together on a journey. We walked by and through and circled about an old "location" in our lives, and we arrived in a new place together. We were in a warehouse of sorts and it was under construction. We came in from outside but we were looking down onto the ground floor beneath us which was a long way down.
Without thinking my husband jumped off the ledge and landed safely below. He beckoned me to follow him assuring me he was fine from the jump and that I would be as well. But I would not jump, Instead, I stepped back away from the ledge and turned to my left where I found a long staircase that led down to where my husband was waiting. The stairwell was wide, white and sort of inviting. It was the kind of staircase where the individual steps were very shallow but they were also long - and the stairs curved around in such a way that I couldn't see very far up ahead, but the stairwell was well lit. At the end of the staircase was Neal, right where he landed from his jump, and he was waiting for me.
Now apart from the deeper personal meaning that the dream spoke to me, and forsaking other specific details, I do have a point. Where we ended up, Neal and I, was in the exact same place - how we got there was two very different journeys.
In and of itself, I think it's a good metaphor for the Walk of Faith. From cross to eternity, we are all making the same trip. However the path and journey that gets us there is individual to each and every one of us.
Now let me be clear, I am NOT preaching an "all roads lead to heaven" belief system here. Please note that I have said very specifically that the pathway to heaven begins at the cross of Christ. But the steps we take in between are individual to each one of us in a thousand different ways - to name a few: strengths and weaknesses, victories and struggles, experiences, even convictions, understanding and confusions - all of these things play a part in the stepping stones and obstacles along the walk of faith.
Too often we get a very narrow perception that the way God speaks to us is the way He speaks to everyone. And we think that His convictions for us are a blanket black and white, right and wrong issue.
For example: Neal and I recommitted our lives to Christ within in a few months of one another. For me God did some immediate hard core convicting and took two things away - Stephen King novels and secular music. Reading wasn't an issue for my hubby, but he is the music man. I found myself really bothered by the fact that he still listened to a lot of music that I didn't think was music he should be listening to. At times I felt pretty passionate - even hostile about it.
The Holy Spirit, thankfully, was quick to backing me off preaching it AT my husband, another story to tell, but not the point of this blog. Eventually God did bring some conviction to Neal, and he changed part of the things that he listened to, but he was not called to the entire abandonment of all secular music that I felt compelled to. It was years later when we were in his car and a song came on that I realized at least in part why there was a difference in conviction.
The song on the radio had a very sexual and inappropriate lyric. I was mortified. Neal didn't even hear it. He'd heard the song a thousand times and never heard the lyric. I heard the song and didn't hear anything but the lyric. I'm a word person, I hear words. Neal is a musician and he hears drum beats and guitar licks and melodies or harmonies (insert a laundry list of other musical terms I don't even know enough to come up with) so our convictions were different because we were different. Both of us all the while wanting to honor God in our words, actions, attitudes and lives.
There are a lot of areas the we as Christians have strong convictions and compulsions that the Body of Christ is well-divided over: drink, don't drink, dance, don't dance, movies, foods, music, politics, causes, parenting methods, the list goes on and on.
And too often as Christians we get so busy with our opinions and policing how other people live their lives that we stop putting our focus on what the Holy Spirit is speaking into our own hearts and minds.
But here's the thing - we are not walking the walk of faith in anyone else's shoes. And at the end of the day the Holy Spirit doesn't need us doing His job in one another's lives. We're not qualified to play that role. We're filtering other people's circumstances through our own experiences and that's dangerous ground.
That's not to say that there isn't a place for wise and godly counsel - specifically biblical counsel, there is, but we're not all called to dole it out without invitation. And when I say "the older I get" I am learning this, I am learning from my mistakes more than my successes. I spent too many years considering myself an expert on the lives of everyone else and pushing people away with "insights and opinions" that were never sought out in the first place.
We need to learn to give each other more grace - grace to learn and to grow and tune our ear to the Holy Spirit on our own. The paths are not perfect, but so long as it is Christ that we pursue, the right direction is ahead.