Today I would like to comment on a quotation that fits the day I had today as well as well as a book I started reading today, which the quote appears in, appropriately enough. The quote is from the famed American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it reads: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” There are some cases, it should be noted at the outset, where this is not good advice. For example, there are many occasions, speaking of the moral path that we are to travel, where blazing new paths (or at least seemingly new paths) only lead us into disaster and decadence, but few people need to be encouraged to blaze those trails. People blaze the wrong kind of trails easily enough and readily enough that no encouragement from such an august source as one of our nation’s foremost philosophers is necessary.
On the other hand, we often do need encouragement to blaze trails of other kinds. Some of us (myself included) tend to have a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm about the chance of pushing beyond our comfort levels and increase our skills and confidence, but others are paralyzed by their fears. Of course, it is easier to be confident about some aspects of life rather than others, based on our own experiences. In time, perhaps, with a sufficient degree of faith, the areas of our lives that are governed by our fears and insecurities may shrink and the area that is governed by our faith (a faith that is not blind faith, but one that is tested and true and based on firm realities). Only when we are confident in our abilities to cope as well as in the ultimate success of our endeavors can we blaze new trails in a good way, expanding our capabilities and making life easier to manage and more successful in its execution in all walks of life.
For most of the past week, and for the near-term at least, I have been dealing with a variety of stressful but also exciting situations that have considerably tested and (so far) improved my own comfort level at dealing with technical issues involving a large group of people who are all entering unfamiliar ground. Being someone who has the temperament of a cautious but consistent explorer, I seek to engage in challenges that I feel I am capable of but that are gradual in the way in which I expand my comfort level and competence, little by little rather than everything all at once. When one has the skills to do what one needs to do, the willingness to make mistakes and grow but to always work on keeping a good attitude and doing the best one can while seeking constant and continual opportunities for growth, I figure everything will turn out right in the end. Such optimistic sentiments as that are within my capabilities.
Some people, when faced with what they have never done before, are paralyzed with both the fear of success and the fear of failure, and to be sure I am often in tension between those two as well. Failure hurts a lot, but success provides with it the knowledge that there will be further difficulties as well as a great deal of time and effort spent in areas that are unknown and difficult to imagine. Familiar failure can be comfortable in a way, whereas success brings with it the knowledge that we will be operating at the boundaries of our capabilities and dealing with greater challenges and difficulties that we may not relish the opportunity to tangle with. Much depends on our own viewpoint; some sorts of bravery come easily, but other types of courage, the sort of courage that a man (or woman) has when facing his (or her) fears with no one the wiser except themselves and God, are much more difficult to acquire, if all the more important because we have vastly more opportunities in life to show moral courage than we have to show the physical courage that leads to glory in the flesh .
Nevertheless, there is a great deal of thrill and excitement in doing what one has never done before, in pushing the frontiers of one’s fears and one’s competence ever further outward. Not only does one gain a confidence that life can be handled and better managed, but one often gains a great deal of tangible and intangible rewards, be they the opportunities to gain greater visibility and greater rewards, as well as a certain amount of self-esteem, confidence, and the respect of others for jobs well done and tasks accomplished. Such victories, be they small or great, can easily be stepping stones for further adventures and further success both in this life and in the world to come. After all, he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much, and we show our ability to handle more by dealing well with what we have.
Just as importantly, blazing a trail into areas that are new and unknown also can provide hope and encouragement to others. It is far easier and far less stressful (and far less courageous) to follow a trail that has been blazed by others than it is to blaze a trail ourselves. In some ways, we who are believers in God’s way are all following a trail that was blazed by Jesus Christ Himself as well as by our forefathers in the faith, and so we can draw strength and inspiration as we show an example to others who are less familiar with such historical case studies in making a very rare and sometimes faint trail a bit wider and more obvious through our godly practice. Likewise, having traveled along a particular road and having triumphed against heavy odds and in difficult struggles allows us to encourage others through our own example, giving faith and strength to those who have yet to gain such triumphs themselves in their own lives. And such encouragement can pay great dividends by helping equip others with the strength of character and determination to serve as faithful models of godly behavior and courageous faith themselves in their own lives for others in turn, in a virtuous cycle that helps our world to become a better place through hearts that are loving and brave. Let us therefore blaze the right kind of trail where there is as yet no path visible to our doubting and indecisive world.