Fall line – why the hard path is actually life-giving

That's not me

Enter through the narrow gate…for the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  - Matthew 7:13-14

“The steep way down is easier – but only if you’re committed.”  - Ski advice given by someone better than me.

One of the mysteries in Jesus’ teaching is the seeming contradiction between his command that we need to seek the narrow road, which is hard and requires discipline, and His other teaching that His “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light.”  On the surface of it, I’d almost think these were two competing philosophies of life; with the latter, you’re allowing Jesus to wrap you in His loving arms, imparting all His strength to you and enabling you to rest, while His very light pack makes your journey simple.  But then, in the earlier passage, Jesus is saying that if you’re going to live into your calling to be a disciple, if you’re going to live fully in the kingdom, it’s going to require intentionality, sacrifice, sweat, and that only a few will even find this path, let alone walk in it.  How can these seemingly contradictory statements both come from Jesus?

The answer is find in this mystery:  The wide road appears easy, but is actually a killer.  The narrow road appears hard, impossible even; so much so that must dismiss it as outright insanity.  Choose it though, and you’ll find it’s actually life giving, energizing, and really, the only good place to be.  This principle is seen most clearly, for skiers, in ‘the fall line.’


When I’m standing at the top of of a double-black diamond looking down, it’s daunting at the very least for people of my skill level.  It’s so steep that the temptation is to descend by making wide traverses, sweeping horizontally across the mountain again and again, until you finally make it more gentle terrain.  Ski it this way, though, and you’ll arrive at the bottom exhausted, having spent your muscle energy fighting gravity the entire time.  Your quads will be burning and you’ll be good for only another run, maybe two, before you need to go to lodge for a break.  I know… I’ve lived this.

The along comes someone with real skills.  They teach that the fall line, the steepest way down, will actually be easier, because you won’t be fighting the laws of nature – you’ll be living in harmony with them.  With gravity as your friend, you’ll enjoy more rest, as you use your muscles in short bursts of breaking, just to turn slightly, and then continue to the descent.  Of course, this requires a few things:  1) that you overcome your fear;  2) that you develop a trust in your skis; 3) that you not be afraid of falling a time or two as you learn.  Embrace these three realities, and you’re own your way to looking that the 85-year-old Norwegian with whom I skied for a morning this past winter.  We rode the lift together, and when he got off, he was fiddling with his stuff so I left him and headed down the “just beyond my limits of skill” slope.

There I go: swoosh…traverse.  Swoosh…traverse.  I did this five or six time in wide sweeping turns, until I had to rest my burning thighs.  Within seconds, along comes the old man, skiing the fall line, and slowing down just long enough to say, “I’ll wait for you at the bottom.” Ouch!!  It turns out the hard road is easier, for the few willing to work hard at learning to ski it.

Hear this: Disciples look for, and choose, the fall line.  Not the theological “fall,” but the skiing metaphor.  They know, because Jesus told them, that the road of discipleship is narrow, like a double black diamond.  They know, too, that only a few will choose it, know that the masses are skiing blue circles, or trying to appear expert on diamonds, but actually getting worn out by the charade.  But they’re determined to follow Jesus on the steeps, and they discover, slowly but surely, that Jesus way is actually, in the long run life giving, energizing.

Let’s get practical.  The fall line of discipleship asks hard things of us, that are contrary to our world:

1. Forgive, when the rest of the world tells us to exact revenge, and our hearts tell us to keep our pain

2. Give generously – 10% or more to your church, and to the poor; give your time, and your extra space at your table, when our world tells us, “You earned it, it’s yours, keep it for yourself – or spend it.”

3.  Your sexuality belongs in the covenant relationship of marriage, while the wide road is filled with alternatives.

4. Your life is not your own, so the only important question is “what does God ask of me.”  This stands in contrast to a world of autonomy.

5. You are made to be part of a community that is committed to making God’s reign visible, so find a church family and commit to it, in spite of the fact that it will take you all of ten minutes to find flaws in it.  This stands in contrast to the spiritual consumerism that characterizes American Christianity, which is a wide road where the masses feed at the trough of religious programming, seeking to fill the void by passively consuming.

The Exhaustion of the Wide Road.  Watch this: (referring to the above concepts by number)

1. Bitterness is killing people, while those who forgive walk upright, find joy, sleep better, lower their blood pressure and cortisol presence, and on and on it goes.

2. Those who give find not only joy, but financial provision in their lives as, having put God’s priorities first, they are enabled to get their financial house in order, living within their means, and finding joy in what they have, rather than self-medicating by shopping.

3. There’s overwhelming scientific evidence of a correlation between multiple sex partners, and increased levels of depression, leading to increased use of counseling and medication.  Much of this is documented in the recent book, which is more of statistical presentation than a theological treatise.

4. The NY Times recently wrote about “decision fatigue,” the thesis of which is that the multiplication of choices we face is paralyzing us.

5. Spiritual consumerism creates a passivity that bypasses discipleship, while giving attenders the illusion that they’re maturing because they know how to sit still for 75 minutes on Sunday.  Rubbish.  Maturity isn’t sitting, but serving.

These are markers on the wide road, and people on that road are tired.  They’re tired of being two people, tired of guilt, tired of not sleeping well, tired of self-medicating by sinking into addictive behavior, tired of their own critical spirit, tired of the joylessness and stress that sometimes characterize their lives.  There’s got to be a better way.

There is.  It’s called:

The fall line 

The narrow road 

Discipleship.  

…it’s life giving – and you’re invited.

Like this message?  Think it’s important?  Please share it.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://brokentelegraph.com ian

    I’m so glad you explored this in yesterday’s sermon. Not only is the message a pivotal and complex one, you’ve explained it with precision. fantastic sermon, fantastic post.

  • http://facebook.com S. Nordin

    This is the BEST explanation of the two “ways” I have ever heard and it makes complete sense. I am not a skier and cannot even imagine doing such a thing but it makes clear the PATHWAYs. Thank you for sharing this. sn

  • Mallory

    Great message- a true challenge at times to follow. But I can’t help but notice that in point 3 of your “Exhaustion of the Wide Road,” the implication is that having multiple sexual partners actually causes depression. This is confusing correlation and causation. It may in fact be that depressed people are more likely to have multiple sexual partners, or that there is some other unstated factor that influences this correlation. I think the statistics that you’ve mentioned are very important food for thought, and so I would hate to see that message sullied by misinterpreting the implications of the data.


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