In Cob Hill cemetery in Barnstable, Massachusetts, there is a headstone with an epitaph which reads:
“As you are now so once was I, As I am now so will you be, So prepare for death and follow me.”
On one occasion some wise soul had scratched beneath these words:
“To follow you I’m not content, Until I’m sure which way you went.”
Knowing which path we take is critical to arriving where we want to go and much of that has to do with who it is we choose to follow. I like the phrase “Follow the Son” with its play on words of son and sun. It is very apt since the sun lights our days and brings us joy.
When the sun breaks forth our hearts are lifted, our spirits rise, and our day seems better. We all know those who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and when the sun shines their depression lifts. Life on earth has evolved around the constant influence of the sun. Without it, life would cease to exist. So too without the SON our hopes for a glorious future back home with our Heavenly Father would die and we would be left in darkness.
Someone once wrote: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ Then came the answer: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” (M. Louise Haskins, in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, second edition, London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1953, page 239.) I like the idea of choosing to put our hand into the hand of God and learn to better follow the SON—the source of all light.
Years ago I read a wonderful book called Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom (Follow the River: A Novel: James Alexander Thom). It is the true story of Mary Ingles:
In 1755 Mary Ingles was expecting her third child when she and her two sons were captured from their homestead in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains by Shawnee Indians. Her husband, Will, narrowly escaped death during the attack. Over the months of her captivity, impressed by her courage and grace under difficult circumstances, Wildcat, the Shawnee chief, conferred special privileges on Mary and her children, and eventually proposed that Mary become his mate. In answer, Mary, determined to escape though doing so would separate her from her children. Together with another captive, an old Dutchwoman, she embarked on a harrowing homeward trek of 43-days and 800 miles in early winter. The magnetic pull of husband and home never waned as she followed the river, battling freezing weather, hunger, challenging terrain, and a threat of cannibalism from her then-crazed companion.
Mary’s heroic, focused trek becomes for me a metaphor for the idea of “following” and as an example of both faith and focus—two key elements we need in our own journey to return home as we do our best to follow the Son.
The need of that important combination of faith and focus are well shown for us in the scriptures when Peter saw Christ walking upon the Sea of Galilee. He called out, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:27). Jesus said simply, “Come.” Brave Peter climbed over the edge of the boat, lowered himself onto the water and remarkably walked on the water toward Him. (We often focus on Peter’s sinking, but forget that, at least briefly, he succeeded!) Then we are told after a few steps, the waves and the wind distracted him and made him afraid, and Peter lost his focus on Christ” . . . and began to sink. He cried out, saying, “Lord, save me” and immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, saying to him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” It was Peter’s lack of faith and focus that caused him to sink . . .
Our own lives, like Peter’s, are deluged with distractions that pull at our faith and our focus, without which we can drown in the waves that beat against us. We need to remember though that Peter called, and Jesus immediately stretched forth his hand and saved him. So does he do for us as we call on Him and seek His aide. He is the anchor of our faith and will reach out to clasp our hand to help us as we follow Him.
Throughout the eons the Son not only preceded us as the first born of the Father, and the Only Begotton Son, but also set the course for us to follow. We can trust Him. True there are many false guides we could follow, many false voices we could listen to, but His way is safe–not easy, but safe. In His mortal ministry He taught us, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
In October a few years ago John and I had the opportunity to go to Israel and walk where Jesus walked and learn of Him in that wonderful, troubled land. That is an awesome place to sense how important it is to Follow the Son—a place where we felt His presence everywhere, yet where He was then and now unrecognized.
There at night, as is the custom of the East, sheep are gathered into a sheepfold to protect them from thieves, weather, and wild animals. The shepherd often slept in the fold to protect the sheep. The Savior used this simple analogy to teach us that we are His sheep; He guides us by His Spirit and His Word, and goes before us, as the Eastern shepherd goes before his sheep, to show us where to walk. He also tells us that “the good shepherd—not like the hireling who runs away at the first sign of danger—giveth His life for the sheep.” He said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). His is the way—the path we are to walk.
Following also asks us to be compliant, to go along with, to follow the rules. This has not always been an easy thing for me. Perhaps following is a learned art and I began as a slow learner:
In the years just after WWII, when I was a little child under two I was curious and head strong. Resources were slim so family outings usually consisted of walks along the Miami river by the Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio, where we lived, or in one of the wonderful parks in the area. It was not easy to keep track of such a determined little person and more than once I wandered off and got lost. One afternoon my mother was horrified to discover I had wandered away and entertained myself by collecting—and drinking the dredges from—all the beer cans I found littering the picnic tables in the park, an experience that left me a rather tipsy two-year old. To prevent such a reoccurrence my parents bought a little harness for me with a long lead and thereafter kept firm hold on my wanderings. Though my freedom had been reined in, on future outings, I could always be found straining and pulling like a puppy at the end of my tether, wanting to go my own way.
In the years since then I have begun to learn the blessing of loving “fetters” and I no longer wish to strain against the pull of love but hunger to draw close, to reach up and take the hand that is “stretched out still,” as Isaiah repeatedly reminds us. A wonderful old Christian hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” speaks to my soul in its final verse:
O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Despite my desire to be so bound, coming to understand what it means has been a journey that in my 72 years I have really only begun. I do know that the goal, the destination of our life’s journey is to “Come unto Him”—to learn to follow Him in every way. Even when I have that desire I sometimes get off track and have to turn around and find my way back onto the path.
Years ago Carolyn Pearson wrote a musical called My Turn on Earth in which is a little song called “Choosing” that speaks to this issue with the words: “You can choose which way to go, but if you choose wrong you will pay something for it every day.” I am grateful that following the Son—and His plan of happiness—provides a way for us to “turn around,” repent, and get headed in the right direction again. Though an often painful process, I have had to make use of that turning around—repenting—many times on my life’s journey and surly will again. . . and again, in the years to come.
But if I, and you, can learn to follow the Son even in our imperfect way, we are promised that we can, in time, become as He is, “Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (I John 3:2). Surly becoming as He is, will be worth our walking all our days in His light as we seek ever more to follow Him!