Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Calf Path

Recently I have had two quotes on my mind quite a bit. I am not sure who originally said the first one, but one of my good friends shared it with me a few years ago. It says, "Following the path of least resistance makes men and rivers crooked."

The second comes from a the Book of Mormon prophet Alma as he teaches the righteous people in the city of Gideon. In Alma 7 he says, "I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of [God's] word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round."

This is what I would like to talk about, the relationship between these two thoughts. To do this, I would like to share a poem that I recently heard.

The poem is called The Calf Path and goes like this:
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh —
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,

And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed that zigzag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach

Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

How often do we follow the path of the calves of the world? How often do we fall into the same rut and routines that those before us have done? How often do we just accept something as "the way it is" without really thinking of the repercussions or other ways that it can be done?

I read this poem and I think to myself, "Why didn't they ever think to just make it straight? Why did they waste so much time and effort doing something that they despised so much? Why didn't anyone think to do something new, something which will be easier in the end?"

When I think of this, my next thought almost always has to do with the fact that it is just easier to do what has already been done. It is easy to simple go with the flow, to follow what those before us have done, regardless of whether or not it is what is best. That is what is easiest in the here and now, why wouldn't they just do that?

I think that is why it is important to keep a long-term focus on things. If we always remember that this life isn't about right here and right now, then it is much easier to break out of the mold, to stray from the path that is more trodden, and to jump onto God's path! If we keep an eternal perspective, our obedience becomes ever so crucial! Rather than being a hinderment and bother, it becomes our way to heaven. Obedience becomes our way onto the path that Christ paved. It becomes our way to find ultimate joy in lieu of immediate pleasure.

This is actually something that is seen in missionary work quite a bit unfortunately. When a missionary first starts their mission, they get paired up with a missionary who has been there for a while who knows what he is doing. This missionary is referred to as his trainer. The trainers are supposed to be some of the best missionaries there are because they are giving these new missionaries their first impressions. But unfortunately sometimes a missionary who is not very obedient gets put as a trainer.

I have seen and heard stories of many new missionaries who aren't really on their missions to work hard and to serve God who get paired up with a bad trainer. Because the new missionary doesn't have much motivation, he doesn't really have much desire to change the things that he was trained to do. So he becomes a disobedient missionary as well. As that missionary continues on his mission he influences other missionaries around him and the calf path that was started by his trainer starts getting more and more developed.

So it is with life, when a bad habit begins, it often lasts for a long time. Is that because it is hard to change? No. Of course it is a little difficult to change habits and routines but nowhere near hard enough to validate sticking with them! So why do people keep them? That is a question that I often wonder myself and I think it is because change is uncomfortable and because it does take that small amount of effort. How easy it is to just let things happen to us and to kind of sit back and watch it all happen!

But that is not the way life should be! We should never follow the calf paths of the world! That is actually something that I learned tonight. We had someone come speak to us and he talked about how God has given us the amazing gift of agency which allows us to choose for ourselves. When something happens or when something has become a routine or common practice, it is our responsibility to use our agency to do what is right, not just to do what is easiest or most convenient.

I actually learned about and experienced this principle earlier on in my life! When I was about 17, my best friend and I decided that we were going to be "nonconformists". We discussed and concluded that there are too many people, especially in high school, who give in to peer pressure and do what "everyone else" is doing. We decided that we were going to be different. We determined that with everything we did, we were going to have a reason for it. There were some things we choose to do which also happened to be the popular thing. But the difference between us and many of those around us was that we had a reason for it. We had decided that whatever that thing was, it would be a good use of our time and efforts.

That was the case with everything we did! Whenever something came up or if someone suggested we do something, we would ask ourselves "Why should I do that? If I were to do this would it be for a good reason or just to fit in?" Asking ourselves those questions helped to protect us from a lot of things and helped us stay focused on what was important. It helped us to avoid those calf paths and stay on God's path.

Through all of my experiences in life, I have come to fully realize that there truly are two paths that we can walk in our lives. There are the calf paths and the path of God. From modern revelation, we learn that "God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left...therefore his paths are straight and his course is one eternal round."

As the poem explains, the path that the calf walked was extremely crooked. It weaved this way and that way and wound back and forth across the country side. But the path of God is the complete opposite! God's path is straight with no turning and no changing directions. I don't know about you, but a long straight road sounds much easier and more enjoyable than a road that turns and is crooked!

So the only question we have to answer and determine for ourselves is which path we will choose to take. Are we going to take the path that is easiest in the here and now but which we will complain and whine about? Or will we take the path of God which will require a little bit of effort now but in the end will be far easier and more rewarding than otherwise? There are only two options and we must decide, now, which path we will take!

From the Book of Mormon we learn that the reward for those who follow God's path far outweighs any effort it will take to stay on that path! From 2 Nephi 31 we read,
"And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate...Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

That is the promise given to all who will make those small efforts to avoid the calf paths of the world and stick to the path set by Jesus Christ. Eternal life--living with God in a state of perfection forever--to me seems like a far better option than following the paths set by those who didn't know what they were doing. What better reward than that??

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