The Road Beaten Hard

This one was written by Maddy Green.  By the time I’ve finished breakfast, I’ve planned […]

This one was written by Maddy Green. 

By the time I’ve finished breakfast, I’ve planned out the whole day, to the half-hour, for both myself and my spouse. I’ve mapped out the car schedule to be most fuel-efficient and to maximize ride-sharing to and from work; I’ve squeezed in a grocery shop and several other not-so-pressing errands I’ve decided “must be done today.” And I’ve already read my devotional (duh), so I know technically that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus pointing out that even striving towards a full and total adherence to the Law of the Hebrew Bible will not protect me from my own wrathful heart; i.e. the law won’t save me. Silly person. Only the grace of God can do that. Well, yeah yeah, I’m speeding down Main Street, yelling at any pedestrian who even thinks of jaywalking during my commute.

I always fall firmly on the side of the law. I love the law, predictable and precise. The law in fact was my first love affair with religion itself. Thrown into adulthood and the overwhelming party culture of a large public university, I was desperate for some helpful guidelines (to fit in somewhere slightly above reckless abandon and hospital visits but below Kool-Aid drinking). Luckily the evangelicals did what they do best — they made me their friend — and soon I was baptised and learning all the foilable characters of the Old Testament that I had missed out on in Sunday school.

I thrived for several years, following the moral rules and becoming a sweet Southern lady — unless you consider the stench of self-righteousness or my uncanny ability to improvise (shall we say) on whether or not any line in the sand was applicable to me. Besides (sigh), even if I miraculously overcame the human conditions of hypocrisy and judgment, it was going to be hard to blend in as a manicured blonde homeschooling Christian housewife, since I remain a vegetarian socialist immigrant.

Cue nannying many adorable children from healthy, well-educated families, and I begin observing that even the humans who are set up most for success are also bizarre and unpredictable creatures (I relate). It occurs to me that these earthlings are not made by us, for us to control and conform; rather, little people seem to be from a wholly other place — created by God for God, is my only guess. Despite their hand-made quilts and matching plush toys arranged squarely in the middle of the living room, everyday these wiggly infants crawl to the edge of the rug to suck on its fascinating and dirty tassels and then move on to consume the dead moth they just grabbed from under the sofa; and when rescued by their attentive loving nanny, they proceed to fiddle with her jacket zipper and eat the hood’s drawstring until they have almost asphyxiated their own caretaker. These are creatures that do not easily obey society’s decisive and demanding guidelines. They are wildly unique and imaginative and curious.

It feels as if we can’t all conform to be “good Christians” the same way you can’t tell sheep to march in a straight line. Luckily the good shepherd promised he would abandon the herd to rescue just one directionally-challenged sheep, always veering off the quilt. To me, the most entertaining people-acting-like-sheep are the saints — the Hall of Fame for Christians is full of quirky sinners. The revered St. Augustine in 300 A.D., for starters, was unmarried when he fathered a child in college, and St. Francis of Assisi stripped naked in the town piazza to publicly renounce his inherited wealth. The list goes on and on.

In his Diary of Private Prayer, Scottish theologian John Baillie prays for communion with this enthusiastic bunch:

Oh God, you have always been there, you are with us now, and you endure forever: I thank you for this well-worn Christian path, a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs… Holy Lord, help me to profit from these great memories of the ages gone by.

The well-worn path Baillie envisions seems to have no mile-markers; it doesn’t come with a manual of road rules, and (in my experience) there are no free doggie-poop-bag stands along the way for cleaning up anything unsightly. Baillie has faith that some faint footprints in one general direction will be enough encouragement along the trail. Charlottesville mentor to many students, Karen Marsh (a saint of hospitality herself) speaks about her encounter with the writings of the saints in her book Vintage Saints and Sinners“Each vintage Christian, whatever the century, encountered God for themselves and each responded wholeheartedly. To learn their stories is to see my own time-bound experience in the light of God’s pursuing presence… They are wise guides in the faith who have been this way before.” In this collection of stories, readers quickly see that “this way before” is full of rebellious adolescents, a mess of doubt, countless heartaches, diseases, setback — and the persistent love of God amidst the complications.

Rules cannot keep us sheep-people on the straight and narrow, and no Sermon on the Mount will save us. It must have happened so frequently it became a coined phrase: people fall off the wagon. But it seems as if the Creator of us tumbling, hoodie-string-sucking creatures loves us anyhow. Extends his pierced hands to show that the Law is already perfectly upheld.

So strap on your hiking boots, you lovely person. We need not squeeze our desires into such narrow concepts of a “Christian Life” but rather extend the love of Christ to include even messy rule-breaking us. The Father invites all bramble-loving wanderers to saunter down the road beaten hard, whistling our own tune, growing out our wild heads of hair, and dipping our dead moths in honey. John the Baptist liked them better that way.

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7 responses to “The Road Beaten Hard”

  1. Sean says:


  2. David Zahl says:

    Gosh, this is great (and really funny). Thank you Maddy, for putting words to your experience and encouraging law-loving drawstring-chewers like yours truly…!

  3. Charlotte Getz says:


  4. anna says:

    Refreshing for my soul! Thanks.

  5. Derrill says:

    Yay, Maddy! Love it!

  6. betty li says:

    “We need not squeeze our desires into such narrow concepts of a “Christian Life” but rather extend the love of Christ to include even messy rule-breaking us.”
    Love this, Mads! Thanks!

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