There’s a particular person in my life I sometimes just don’t want to be with. It’s often uncomfortable and sometimes scary to be together. There are times when I intentionally avoid this person. Sometimes I don’t like what I see in this person. Other times I am disappointed in or angry with this person. Sometimes I don’t listen to this person. Sometimes we argue. A lot has happened between us. Judgments have been made, criticisms have been exchanged, and wounds have been inflicted. I often don’t understand this person or our relationship. Some days I love this person, and other days not so much.
Our relationship is often rough or crooked. Sometimes when I am with this person I descend into a deep valley and make less of myself than I really am. Other times I climb a high mountain and make more of myself than I really am.
You know what I’m taking about, right? I suspect you know those feelings I described. I think we all have someone like that in our lives. But it might not be who you think it is.
Have you ever seen someone at the grocery store and then turned down another aisle to avoid her or him? That’s not who I am talking about. I am not talking about a former spouse. I am not talking about a business partner, colleague, or friend with whom you’ve had a falling out. And I am not talking about someone whom your family, politics, or religion demonizes and feuds with.
In my case, the person I am talking about is me. I’m talking about the relationship I have with myself. And I am talking about the relationship you might have with yourself.
I think that’s what John the Baptist is getting at in today’s gospel (Luke 3:1-6) when he says:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
He’s talking about the relationship we have with ourselves. He’s talking about the landscape of our lives. He’s asking us to risk confronting ourselves.
What if that confrontation with ourselves is what it means to “prepare the way of the Lord?” And what if it’s less about whether we’re wrong, bad, or sinful and more about our healing and wholeness?
The valleys, mountains and hills, crooked paths, and rough ways of which John speaks are descriptive of our interior landscape. They are conditions and states of being within us. They are ways we relate to ourselves and one another. For the next few moments I want us to consider the landscapes of our lives.
What are the valleys in your life today?
Think about the low places in your life. What gets you there and what keeps you there? Maybe it’s the judgments or criticisms you make of yourself. Maybe it’s self-doubt, second guessing, lack of confidence or self-esteem. In what ways do you diminish or put down yourself? Sometimes we live in the valley of grief and loss. Guilt, shame, embarrassment often take us to the valley. It might be regrets, disappointment, fear, failures. When have you betrayed or alienated yourself? When have you settled or given up? When have you lived less than who you wanted to be or less than who you knew yourself truly to be?
What are the mountains and hills in your life today?
Think about the times and ways you’ve gotten too big for your britches. Think about the ways in which you try to control or coerce your life or another’s life. When have you been selfish, judgmental of others, or intellectually rigid? In what ways are you motivated by power, wealth, success, reputation, the need for approval or to be right? When have you played king or queen of the mountain? When we live in excess of anything we’re on top of our mountain. When have you thought yourself better than or superior to others? When our ego is inflated and we’re full of ourselves we’re climbing the mountain.
What’s crooked in your life today?
I’m asking about those things or relationships that are off kilter or out of sync. In what ways are your words and actions not aligned with the values you claim to hold? In what ways is your life twisted or deformed? When we are dishonest with ourselves or others we’re on a crooked path. Is there integrity in your life, your words and actions? Every time you and I give another reason to doubt the trustworthiness of our words or actions we are living crooked. What’s the shape of your life these days? Is it shaping up the way you want and, if not, what’s crooked?
What are the rough ways in your life today?
Think about the ways your life today is uneven, out of balance, or lacking in harmony. What’s missing? What’s causing you to stumble and trip? What parts of your life are lacking order? What relationships need some care or repair? What beliefs, patterns, or habits are making your life bumpy? Are you sometimes more tolerant and gentle with others than yourself? Who are you roughest on and why?
Those landscapes are not just individual. They are also in our churches, Uvalde, America, and the world. Look at the topography of COVID, racism, immigration, economic inequality, and the political issues that divide us and you’ll see valleys, mountains and hills, crooked paths, and rough ways. In what ways are those also a part of your life’s landscape? In what ways are you walking that terrain today?
That landscape is a mirror that confronts us with ourselves. This confrontation with ourselves, however, isn’t meant to be a final judgment or conclusion. It’s a diagnosis. It’s naming the places in our lives and world where it hurts.
Where does it hurt today? Healing starts with where it hurts. Before there can be treatment there has to be a diagnosis. And sometimes the most difficult and scariest part of healing is going to the doctor to find out what’s wrong.
But I want you to know this. Whatever the terrain of your life and world might be today, wherever it hurts: “every valley shall be filled,” “every mountain and hill shall be made low,” “the crooked shall be made straight,” and “the rough ways shall be made smooth.” That’s the good news John brings from the wilderness. It’s the good news that God will bring you and me back to ourselves. (Baruch 5:6).
It’s the hope that you and I will one day live on level ground and walk a smooth straight path together. That’s what I want, don’t you? That’s what I want for you, our nation, the world, and myself. But like I said last week, hope is a call asking something of us – a repentance, a change.
Imagine what your life would look like if you lived on level ground and walked a smooth straight path. That’s what John is offering each one of us. To “see the salvation of God” begins with looking at the landscape of our lives.
What do you see when you look at the landscape of your life today?