Up and to the Right

Stock market is down (again!) today in a big way. The usual chorus of voices can be heard on the TV and radio trying to take advantage of this drama by fanning the flames of worry and discontent. Forgotten among the voices saying to wait the bear market out is the reality that the stock market is a gamble. In principle it is nice to think that my investment will be safe because in five years the value of the stock market will be more that it is today. While that is a nice thought, it is no where near reality.


When you actually do invest money, you have to sign a legal pad’s worth of documents verifying that you understand that you could lose it all. There is no insurance or safety net. Growth is not certain. Does anyone even read those things? Or are they like the license agreement when my new version of iTunes updates or the internet access redirect that I just ignored when I logged on at Panera five minutes ago? We just click “I agree” without thought of the consequences.

In our lives there is an assumption that everything will be “up and to the right”. A growth chart. Every day better than the last. Every job change a promotion. Every year of marriage better than the last. Stock investments grow. Church attendance will climb. There will be an iPhone 5 after the iPhone 4.

Uninterrupted progress. That is our expectation.

Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson writes in his work Insight and Responsibility that “our western world image is a one-way street to never ending progress, and this means that our individual lives come to be one-way streets to success – and sudden oblivion.”

Oblivion comes when our expectation of constant progress meets the real world. Like a cold front and warm front colliding to create a thunderstorm, crisis results when our expectations are not met. How many potential retirees were left unprepared for the economic downturn? How many parents are prepared for their children to not turn out ‘right’? How many spouses are frustrated that their best effort at being good still leave them with a lifeless, unfulfilled marriage?

Just like we do in other areas of our lives, we assume a path of continual progress spiritually as well. Oblivion results when we are confronted over and over by the reality of a broken world. Darkness is a reality of the world we find ourselves in. The desert is the opposite of Eden.

Yet, the reality is that God draws us to desert places. He uses dark nights of the soul as part of his formation process. In the desert, nothing grows or exists without the sustenance of God. Just as the Israelites who spent 40 years wandering and eating manna. The dark requires light to see. Light that we long for, again the wandering Israelites bear witness – they were let by a pillar of fire.

We don’t like the desert or the darkness, for in them we are confronted with our dependence. Spiritual success becomes our identity. It is uncomfortable to realize that we are not in charge of our sanctification. Self effort is so much easier to because we only have to go as far as we want. It can be faked. Tares look a lot like wheat. Ultimately, self effort does not need Jesus.

Some wear the mask of spiritual success because they are afraid of the alternative. Allowing ourselves to be fully known, fully dependent on the provision of God. If we resist the dark night or the desert, thinking that something must be wrong because we are not experiencing success – the best life now – life on the up and to the right growth curve, then we are in danger of missing out on the blessing of knowing Jesus more fully.
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