The Difficult Path
There once was a man who found himself in a terrible spot. He had wandered off the highway that everybody else was taking to somewhere – a highway that he didn’t find satisfying and thus his departure - and was stuck in a quagmire which was sucking him deeper and deeper. The quagmire was in a dark place in the forest, and he could find no one to help him. As he looked around, he saw many others who also were also stuck in the quagmire. Some thought they could help him, but they themselves were stuck in the quagmire, just in slightly different ways and to different degrees. So they gave their advice as to how to get out of the quagmire, even while they themselves could not get out!
Then one day, the man saw a light enter the forest. The light was coming from a man who was able to walk in the midst of the quagmire, yet not get stuck at all. This man was most unusual as he was difficult to see as his appearance was as finely blown glass glinting in the summer sun. He watched this man of light approach many other’s who were stuck in the quagmire, and to his surprise they refused his help! They refused his help because he pointed to a narrow path in the forest that he said they needed to walk on in order to avoid further quagmire and dangers. Apparently they believed they were going to find the way to get unstuck themselves.
The vast majority of those stuck in the quagmire wanted to go back on the highway, where all their family and friends were cruzing along. What these stuck in the quagmire didn’t realize is that the highway always led to either quagmire or dead-end side-paths…it brought them no where except into quagmire or side-paths. It was just a matter of time before a person traveling on the highway would take a wrong step and end up in the quagmire, or wander into a side-path, or find that the highway itself would end at a giant quagmire.
And so the man pondered the man of light who was trying to rescue people and set them on the narrow path that led out of the darkness. Finally, the man of light came to him and asked him, ‘would you like to be freed from the quagmire and walk on that narrow path over there?’ The man in the quagmire considered the man of light’s offer. He knew he was stuck beyond all hope. He could feel the quagmire consuming him and pulling him under. He knew that the reason he was in the quagmire was no one else’s fault but his own. So he turned his head and peered down the narrow path as best as he could. From what he could see, it appeared very difficult. He didn’t see anyone else on the path, and he saw a number of obstacles on the path which looked quite difficult to get past.
Then he turned his head towards the highway, where there were many people, including his family and friends, cruzing along. Just then, one of his family members stopped along the highway and peered into the forest and said, ‘dear brother, how did you get in there’? The man called out to his brother, ‘well, I just veered off the highway a bit and got stuck…please come and help me’. His brother answered, ‘oh, my, too bad…I’d come and try and help you, but it looks treacherous in there and I won’t be able to help you if I too get stuck…so, best wishes and good luck, brother…perhaps one of these other people can help you’. And his brother re-joined the multitudes cruzing the highway.
After his brother left, his dad and mom stopped and looked at him. They called out, ‘son, how in the world did you end up in there?’ The man called back, ‘well, dad and mom, I made a big mistake…would you please help me get out of here?’ His dad and mom called back, ‘you know we taught you that if you make your bed, you need to lie in it. We tried to tell you what we thought was right, and now that you failed, you need to help yourself’. Then his dad and mom turned their backs on him and started again on the highway. And so, his brother and dad and mom all left him perishing in the quagmire. This was most distressing to the man, as he believed that his family truly loved him. But at that moment, he found out just how deep their love for him was.
The man of light then patiently and gently said to him, ‘I know the way out looks difficult, and it is. But I will be with you as you walk along the path. I assure you it is the only sure way out of the quagmire. Please don’t be afraid…just trust me. At the end of this difficult path you will find my father, and the joy at meeting him will be indescribable if you are willing to get to know me along the way. For any good you see in me comes from my father.’
The man gave one more look at the highway and the other’s stuck in the quagmire, and then reached his hand up to the man of light. He knew that what the man of light said was true, and he was perishing in the quagmire. And so, he set in his heart to trust the man of light and to begin walking on the difficult path the man of light showed him.
He was greatly relieved to find himself out of the quagmire which was suffocating him and dragging him down. The man of light had pulled him out of the quagmire and set him on the path. For this he was most grateful as tears of gratitude streamed down his face for the rescuer! And then the man of light gave the man a small book containing his instructions…it was essentially a verbal map to get to the destination at the end of the difficult path. The man took it gladly, and the man of light said, ‘this book contains my words, and in as much as you read them with a heart of love towards me, you will get to know me and thus you will know how to navigate the difficult way’.
As he turned around to hug the man of light once more, the man of light was gone, or at least he could not see the man of light. He seemed to have left him alone on the path. Well, the man thought, it was wonderful to be freed from the quagmire, and he had the man of light’s map and the path was clear, even though it was difficult. And so he started out on it as the man of light had instructed. The man of light warned him clearly about the difficulty of the path, but he also gave him this consolation. The man of light said that for each obstacle he would be willing to overcome, the path would, in a way he couldn’t now understand, get a bit less difficult. And so, the man became a traveler of the difficult path.
The man quickly learned that the path was in fact difficult. The obstacles were regular and dangerous and at times it was so steep it seemed he would never be able to continue. One of the most difficult aspects of journeying on the path was the loneliness, although he didn’t have to feel that way. The man of light was there to comfort, console and provide hope to the traveler, but the man of light would only be as visible as the traveler’s faith in him. The man of light was always available to be the traveler’s companion, but the traveler often could not sense him due to his lack of faith. You see, the man of light’s dad had made the man of light in such a way as he would only be as real to people as their faith in them allowed.
Of course because a traveler of the difficult path could not see him did not mean he was not there willing to help them…it just meant they could not sense his presence. And since the man’s faith was quite weak at the beginning of his journey on the difficult path, it appeared to him that the man of light had abandoned him, even though the man of light said he would never abandon him. The book he gave him containing his words said so, and when he read the man of light’s words, he would be comforted.
There were very few people traveling the difficult path, and so the man very rarely ran into someone. When he did find someone traveling on the path, he was most grateful for their company. There would be an immediate joining of their souls as they would share about their love for the man of light and his father. It seemed that they could talk about their common love forever. However, he found that people were walking along the path at different rates. He found it was way too difficult to keep up with the one’s progressing at a faster rate on the path.
When the man would encounter a slower moving traveler, he would slow down to their pace, even as the faster travelers would often slow down to his pace for a time. This allowed for much joy as they walked together for a time. Sometimes, a good number of travelers would join on the path and be together for quite some time, and this was most wonderful for the travelers. However, a group traveling together for some time was clearly not the normal experience for a traveler. The man of light wanted groups to travel together, but it was too much to ask for the travelers to love one another the way the man of light loved them.
Regularly, the man of light would appear down the path a way and encourage each traveler to go at their best pace, and this would often mean trying to help another slower traveler. If the slower traveler would not go at the faster pace, then the other travelers would move forward without him or her and allow the man of light himself to assist them. Often the slower travelers didn’t want other traveler’s assistance, as pride and fear remained in the travelers, just waiting for the opportunity to slow them down or turn them away from the path.
The one thing all travelers agreed was the most important thing was to listen to the man of light, for it was he who rescued them, and it was he who put them on the path, and it was he who guided them along the path. In fact, at times, it was difficult to distinguish the path itself from the man of light for he always showed the way! The one thing the travelers knew for sure was that without the man of light, they would wander off the path and get hopelessly stuck again.
During those times when a traveler or travelers had to separate from another traveler, it was hard to see a good reason for the separation. What the travelers could not see at the time, was almost invariably the separation led to a situation where a new traveler would start, or continue, on the path. And almost invariably, that new traveler would not have started, or stayed on, the path were it not for the other travelers separating. You see, the man of light was constantly trying to rescue people and put them on the path, and he would regularly use the traveler’s on the path as part of the rescue process.
All along the path the man of light was rescuing people, and when he did, he would place them on the path and tell them to walk along the path. If fear gripped the new traveler’s heart (and thus they could not see nor sense the man of light) and they wanted to get off the difficult path, the man of light would use one of the other travelers to comfort and assure the new traveler that they were doing the right thing by listening to the man of light and staying on the difficult path. They would also remind them to read the man of light’s words that he had given them.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of journeying on the difficult path was not the obstacles on the path. Rather, it was what was known as the side-paths that would be encountered very regularly. These side-paths were very attractive looking and they varied somewhat although they were essentially the same. The side-paths were quite easy to enter. Some were quite long and expansive, while others were short and somewhat confined. The side-paths were connected to the highway that all people cruzed on at some point in their life. In fact, most of the people on the side-paths came by way of the highway. They never traveled the narrow and difficult path, but rather found a side-path that they liked, and they stayed there. The side-paths were always dead-ends that lead either to the highway and thus eventually into quagmire, or into them selves.
There were always people on these side-paths. Sometimes there were a few people, and sometimes entire organizations and communities of people! These people who were on these side-paths had the common belief that either the side-path was the difficult path or it was superior to the difficult path. They were having a nice and relatively comfortable time on the side-path, for these side-paths were not nearly as difficult as the narrow path of the man of light. The people who dwelled in the side-paths were very close to the difficult and narrow path, and they would even place a foot out on the path every so often. However, they would never travel the path consistently and devotedly. They might even take the narrow path for a short distance in order to get to another side-path. The belief of the side-pathers was that the difficult path was entirely wrong and always destructive, only to be ventured with great fear and only for very short periods of time. When they did step on the path, and the man of light would appear to them and call them to be committed to the narrow path, but they would quickly draw back into the side path or veer off into the next side path so as to avoid the man of light’s voice.
Now, the man’s faith continued to be quite weak, and so he would regularly look to others on how to navigate the difficult path instead of listening only to the man of light and reading his words/map. He did this in spite of the fact that the man of light told him plainly to listen only to him in order to know how to navigate the difficult path. He did this in spite of the fact that he had the man of light’s words in his book. And so foolishly, the man would regularly veer off the difficult path and go and talk with the people of the side-paths as they would call out to him.
It turned out the people on the side path were there for many reasons, but they had one thing in common. They themselves had considered walking on the difficult path (or had actually walked on it for a time), but decided it was too difficult, and so settled on the side-paths. And of course they tricked themselves into believing that their side-path was the difficult path or part of the difficult path or superior to the difficult path. And so when the man of light would come to call them onto the difficult path, they would turn away from him and listen to the side-pather's voices who would encourage them to stay on the side-paths.
The side-pathers were very interesting in this respect. Some had a dim remembrance of the man of light somehow trying to help them in the past, and most of the side-pathers would speak many words saying how nice and wonderful the man of light was. And yet, for all their nice words about the man of light, they would encourage themselves and others to ignore the man of light who was calling them onto the difficult path! They would say things like, ‘oh yes, the man of light is very wonderful and helpful, but you have to be careful about how you hear or read his words. You see, it requires other people – the learned men of the side paths – to properly interpret what the man of light says. The path the man of light calls us to is way too difficult to travel and enjoy one’s self, so obviously the man of light cannot mean that we must stay on the difficult path. He could not possibly mean that we cannot enjoy the comforts, material security, pleasures and entertainments of the side paths. Come here, traveler, and listen to this learned teacher and wise man of the side path, for he will tell you what the man of light really means…’
The main way the people of the side-paths would avoid the man of light’s plain words, was to use their book. You see, all the side-pathers had a large book which included, in a very small section buried in the book, the man of light’s words. So while the book did contain the man of light’s words, the vast majority of it contained the words of many other men. And the side-pathers had a very important belief they got from one of the other authors of their big book, and that belief was that all the words of their big book were the man of light’s words! Yes, this was irrational, and yet they held this belief very strongly.
In fact, this belief was the key to the deception of the man of light’s greatest enemy – which deception prevented people from taking the difficult path and kept them on the side-paths. And so, the side-pathers would spend much time studying the book saying they were doing so to try and understand the man of light’s words, and yet they would spend the vast majority of their time reading words other than his! Of course, it was a very big book and so this was quite easy. And it was such a big book with so many varying views, it was easy to miss the contradictions between the other authors of the book and the man of light’s words.
And so, very ironically, the side-pathers would dwell on the side-paths, while their leaders studied this book and told them to follow the book, even while they ignored the man of light who regularly appeared in person to tell them what they should do. The man of light even said in their book that the purpose of the book was to lead them to him! However, instead of doing what the man of light says, they would say they cannot understand his words and needed the other authors of the book – as well as their learned teachers and wise men of the book – to tell them what the man of light says and means. (After many years, it became apparent to the man that the people of the side-paths had replaced the man of light with their book, and used it as the excuse as to not listen to the man of light. The traveler could finally see that they ought to just listen to the man of light himself instead of ignoring him and looking to others to tell them what he says. However, it took a very long time for the traveler to see this due to his own lack of devotion to the man of light.)
And so, time and time again, the man would wander into the side-paths seeking the comfort of other people as there were so few travelers along the narrow path. And quite frequently, the man would tarry for long periods of time listening to the leaders of the side-pathers tell him what the man of light really means as they turned to the other writers of the book to do so. Of course the ultimate conclusion to the side-pather’s version of what the man of light really means, was to stay on the side-paths and not venture onto the difficult path.
The traveler’s tarrying was particularly true at the beginning of his journey on the difficult path. The man of light would patiently exhort him to continue on the path, and yet he would listen to the voices of the side-pathers - who said they knew what the man of light wanted - and often stay in their organizations and communities for long periods of time. The few times he would object to something they said and say, ‘but the man of light’s words say…’ The side-pather would answer that his map was incomplete and he needed to listen to the completed map, their big book. They would say he needed to listen to the men who pointed forward to the man of light, and to the men who pointed backwards towards the man of light. Thus, they would not listen carefully to the man of light himself.
Sadly, while he did love the man of light, the traveler's devotion to the man of light was so weak that when the thought would come - ‘but how could the map the man of light have given me be wrong?’ - he would let the side-pather’s voices push him away from seeking an answer to that question. In this way, he could stay on the side-path and have the company of many people, for one of the most difficult aspects of the difficult path was human loneliness.
Thus, the traveler would very often enjoy their conversations, and would even begin to believe their reasons for not needing to travel on the difficult path. They would say things like, ‘oh, well, we are loving each other here on this side path, and doesn’t the man of light say that that is the most important thing?’; or, ‘our learned man of the book here says that these side roads will all eventually end up at the same place as the difficult path you are unnecessarily treading’; or, ‘our leaders say that our side-path is the one true way to go where the man of light says we ought to go’; or, ‘the man of light doesn’t mean that we have to forsake all the good things on the side-paths, just the sinful things’; ‘the man of light himself says that we have other spiritual teachers that we ought to listen to’.
These various arguments from the side-pathers would often confuse and immobilize the man. However, the one thing that kept the man tarrying the most with the people on the side paths was their habit of talking about the man of light with apparent keen interest, as well as the difficult path he was saying they needed to travel. They would regularly refer to him and would sometimes refer to his words in that small portion in their big book. They would say good things about the man of light, and they could describe the difficult path with great detail. Since these things spoke to the man’s head in terms of his experiences on the path, he would regularly tarry and listen to and sometimes even contribute to the conversation about the man of light and about the path and about the path’s destination. Of course this meant that the man would not be walking on the narrow path as the man of light said! This was a most deceitful predicament, yet one the man regularly found himself in.
However, what would always happen, is that the man of light would appear on the path and call to the man to leave the side-path and get back on the difficult path. Sometimes, the traveler was so engaged in conversation about the man of light and about the path and where it lead, that he would ignore the man of light’s pleadings for him to continue on the path! At the same time, since he was not walking on the narrow path as he ought to have been doing, his faith was diminished and he could hardly discern the man of light’s presence or voice so it was very difficult to hear him.
And so, the man, like the side-pathers, would deceive himself into believing that talking about the man of light, and praising the man of light, and admiring the man of light, was the same as doing what the man of light says. He would be confused by the side-pathers who said that learning the book was the way to know the man of light, for that was very similar to what the man of light himself said (except, of course, the book the man of light gave the traveler contained only his words). And that listening to their learned men of their book expound upon what the other author’s of the book say about the man of light, was what the man of light wanted. This was a very great deception, and if it were not for the man of light regularly and patiently calling to the man from the difficult path, the man would have surely stayed with the side-pathers. However, the traveler would eventually respond to the man of light’s voice because of his love for the man of light for having saved him from the quagmire.
Eventually, after quite a number of years visiting the side-paths, the traveler finally could receive the man of light’s words that he alone was the only one who could successfully guide him on the difficult path. Thanks to the man of light’s persistence and faithfulness, the man finally stopped responding to the voices of those on the side-paths. He could finally receive the truth that the side-pather’s book, and those learned men on the side-paths who revered the book, would simply keep him off the narrow and difficult path.
The traveler had no doubt that some on the side-paths had real faith in the man of light, for there were a good number of simple people on the side-paths that did not earnestly seek to listen to the learned men of the book. And when the man of light came calling, the man remembered some of the side-pathers would turn and listen, and they would not have heard his voice if they had no faith in him. But make no mistake, dwelling on the side-path was a very dangerous place to be, for it was sold by the men of the book of the side-paths as a valid alternative to the difficult way…or worse, that the side-path WAS the difficult path. And as soon as a side-pather, in their heart, believed that their side-path was the difficult path, or was as good as the difficult path, or was the way to the end of the difficult path; then they could no longer hear the man of light’s voice, and they would be doomed to the side-path.
It took many years along the difficult path, but praise God, the day came when the man could finally receive the man of light’s words that he was to be the man’s only spiritual authority, and no other…that only the man of Light’s Words would lead him into the Light which was only found along the difficult path. It was not until the man was willing to let go of all the side-pathers said was important (especially their book), that the man could experience the freedom of the Light. And experience the freedom of the Light he did! As a result of the freedom granted the man by listening only to the man of light, the man was able to assist many on the difficult way. This was a great joy to the man, that is to have been able to assist fellow travelers in understanding that the man of Light was the difficult Way, and that only by listening to the man of Light would a traveler find the destination at the end of the difficult path…Life Everlasting with the man of Light’s Father!
The man traveled for many years along the difficult way, assisting many in turning towards the man of light and thus through the various obstacles of the difficult way as well as away from the traps of the side-paths. The traveler found that people who arrived on the difficult path directly from the man of light and never had any exposure to the side-paths, were the easiest to assist. If he could keep them from the side-paths, they would do very well traveling the difficult way. They were much more focused on the man of light, and didn’t have nearly the doubt that those exposed to the lies of the side-paths had. The traveler ceased trying to go into the side-paths in an attempt to lead someone out and onto the difficult path. He did this in order to follow the man of light’s pattern, as well as seeing that it always ended in failure. He found that if he would wait until the man of light was able to coax a person out of the side-path, that then he could be of use to the man of light and seek to encourage them on the difficult path.
Of course, the traveler’s work in this regard made the learned men of the book of the side-paths very angry, for they benefited from having more people listen to them on their particular side-path…and there were many thousands of side-paths. The learned men of the book of the side-paths greatly coveted both the people’s admiration for them, as well as their influence over the people of the side-paths. Sadly, the learned men of the side-paths and their followers were deceived and thus believed that their side-path either was the difficult way or was an equal or superior way to the destination of the difficult Way. The side-pather’s leaders could not see that they were being used by the main enemy of the man of light to keep people from the one true difficult way. Thus, they could not help but view the man who helped people stay away from the side-paths as both their enemy, as well as an enemy of their god.
Towards the end of his journey, the man found that perhaps the most dangerous aspect of walking on the difficult path was avoiding the people of the side-paths and their leaders. It was as if there was a bounty out on the head and life of the man who walked the difficult Way. The leaders of the side-pathers would regularly try and pull him forcibly into the side-path and kill him. The man of Light would often warn him and assist him in keeping away from the side-pathers. But the day came, when the traveler - while he was helping yet another side-pather who had just escaped the side-path - was caught. The side-pathers leaders, the learned men of the book, were full of glee for having captured the ‘heretic’ and called a large meeting to try the traveler of the difficult Way. The accusations from the side-pathers leaders were many, fierce and totally without merit in the eyes of the man of Light. Their hatred and malice for the real man of Light was quite evident, as they eagerly condemned a faithful servant of the man of Light.
During those most difficult moments, the traveler's faith was great and thus the man of Light became very clear to the man, and he greatly encouraged him in a way he had not experienced previously. The man of Light reminded him that they did the same thing to him, and that it was a great privilege to go through the same thing that he went through. The man of Light reminded him of the Father’s love for him as well as his own love for him…he reminded the man of the great reward that awaited him at the end of the difficult path. And as the side-pathers rage grew uncontrollable, and they ripped his flesh, the man started to enter into a great peace.
As the man’s body gave up at the attacks of the side-pathers, and his eyes closed, a glorious thing happened. It was as if he could see more clearly than he could ever see before. While he had struggled with fear in the past few moments, that peace that gripped his heart became as pure as highly refined gold. Love filled his heart for the poor side-pathers who were so misguided in their zeal, and in their ignorance of his Father. And then he could hear a sound as vast as the ocean, yet as tranquil as a light rain in the forest. As he opened his eyes, he saw the man of Light standing next to a figure that was impossible to describe…a figure so glorious and powerful and clear and immense that he felt as if his breath left him.
He felt two people helping him walk on either side of him, and he looked at them and they looked somewhat like the man of light…glorious, beautiful and kind. Then he found himself standing in front of the Man of Light and his Father. He could barely behold the glory of the Father, and so he could not but help bowing low, as tears of joy streamed down his face. All the years of rejection on the difficult Way…all the hardships endured…all the human loneliness…all the sadness of the people who rejected the man of Light…all those memories were washed away as with the purest healing water. The presence of the Father before him totally permeated his being and he was consumed with a love that he didn’t think possible. He felt as if his entire being was freed from all limitations and there was nothing but peace, joy, love in boundless and unlimited perfection.
It was then that he felt a hand on his shoulder. As he turned his head up to look, there was the Man of Light, appearing in a manner much like his Father…full of glory and magnificence. The Man of Light gently wiped the tears of joy from his face, and smiling, said in a gentle and very glad voice – a voice that came from the eternal place - ‘my dear friend, brother and servant - you have done very well. Enter into the joy of the full presence of our everlasting and ever loving Father’.
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