In several of my latest posts, I have either directly or indirectly addressed the problem of complacency. This topic has been on my mind consistently in the recent months, whether over break in reflection on the fall semester, or in striving to be active in my Christian walk here and now. And as I was working through these ideas and thoughts, I began reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) for a second time for one of my English elective courses.
Okay, so, I knew I liked the tale. But geez, did I forgot the simple beauty of this book! Oh, it’s been so much fun! Like reconnecting with an old friend… and realizing you did miss them even though they were not constantly in the forefront of your mind. Sheer joy!
Of course, it’s been since 8th or 9th grade since I last read it. At least four years later, I definitely have learned from and appreciated the work far more. And sharing that insight and joy with fellow, Christian, literary lovers? I am essentially walking on sunshine — in my soul, at least, because the weather here is ludicrous. No, Colorado, I do not treasure the -13 degrees on my way to class. Unfortunately, when I attempted to file a complaint with God, He told me to quit telling Him how to do His job, focus on what I can control, and grow a spine.
I want to share one of the moments from this piece of allegorical literature that struck me the most. For those who haven’t read it, understand that Christian has left the City of Destruction and traveled through the wicket Gate to find salvation. At this point in the story, we find him climbing a steep hill on his way to the Celestial City. As the hill grows increasingly difficult, Christian resorts to “clambering on his hands and knees” (46). He is exhausted and running low on physical stamina, however, he diligently continues to climb. Suddenly, half-way up the hill, the tired pilgrim discovers “a pleasant arbor, made by the Lord of the hill, for the refreshing of weary travelers” (46). Here, Christian takes a break to rest, as intended. However, he soon falls deeper and deeper into sleep, utterly losing track of time. In fact, he sleeps through the whole day, wasting good daylight hours. A voice awakes him, proclaiming Proverbs 6:6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.” With that, Christian frantically races up the rest of the hill, encountering other pilgrims who are turning back in fear of danger at the top. He soon realizes he has lost his valuable scroll, which he received upon entering the Gate and seeing the Cross. Thus, he must turn back to retrieve the scroll. Readers are told that during Christian’s journey back down the path, “Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chid himself, for being so foolish to fall asleep in that place which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness” (48). Nevertheless, in short, by the grace of God he finds the roll of parchment and rejoices by powerfully continuing his journey.
After facing menacing lions, Christian reaches the summit of the challenging hill, entering a lodge kept by Porter (I know, I know, the names are not creative… this is the point). Here, as well as in a place earlier in the story, Christian runs into the opposite problem. The residents, namely Charity and Prudence, ask him many questions and show him many things. However, all Christian can think about is moving on. Bunyan writes that, “on the morrow he got up to go forwards, but they desired him to stay till the next day also” in order to show him further glories and impart wisdom (58). After his time of learning is through, Christian begins traveling again.
So what is the difference between these situations? In one, Christian’s supposed to enjoy it for a moment and move on, and in the other linger? What’s the lesson to be learned? Where the heck is the consistency?
This is where my nerdy love of analysis comes in, and I grow utterly excited. You see, Bunyan placed these two examples one after another in his book to display the differences between abusing God’s blessings of places of rest and refreshment, and recognizing longer seasons of preparation. In the first situation, Christian loiters too long where he should only take a breath, be thankful for the respite, and continue his journey. In the second, he is enthusiastically ready to depart, but the Lord knows he needs to prepare his heart and mind for the trials and temptations ahead.
I don’t know about you, but to me, that is an incredible comparison. I highly recommend you read it for yourself! As for the applicable side, be conscious of where God has you. When He blesses you with moments of peace and joy in the midst of hectic life, enjoy them! Simply be conscious to avoid growing complacent and taking advantage of God’s blessings. Conversely, do not grow impatient with seasons of formulation. As a college student, this is where myself and many of you all, my peers, struggle. We either focus too intently on having fun, or we grow anxious in wanting to change the world while God’s still busy doing His work to shape both our intellectual and spiritual educations. Personally, I’m still learning to tell the difference between moments of peace, moments of preparation, and moments of pathetic complacency.
Evaluate your circumstances. Did you take moments in the last week to enjoy God’s gifts of respite, and then continue diligently in your work and school? Are you recognizing the growth God is doing, or growing irritated at how long it is taking to “move on and get life started?”
“But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” – Psalm 13:5-6