Fear and Frustration
How do we approach confusion and uncertainty in our life’s path?
A few years ago, I heard a lot of people talking about a book titled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by influential author/pastor Mark Batterson. The book’s title refers to the exploits of one of David’s mighty men, Benaiah, who killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day (2 Sam 23:20-21). Batterson uses this story as a way to recast how we view adversity and challenges in our lives. As opposed to choosing the path of least resistance – which is what we do most of the time – he challenges us to see fortune in these arenas of trial and adversity. He encourages us to face our fears, chase divine opportunities, and live with no regrets. This book is influential in the lives of a lot of people I know and respect, and continues to challenge people to be braver.
I have been recently reflecting on how another interchange with a lion offers an additional view on trial and struggle that can both augment this perspective of bold enterprise, and strengthen our flagging spirits when we spend seasons in the doldrums. This scene takes place in one of the most face-melting collection of books ever: C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Outside of the Bible, these books have had the most profound and persistent impact on my life. Brief aside: one of the things I anticipate the most as a parent is reading these books to my kids, although these works will probably cause me to ugly-cry in front of my kids – sorry children.
In this particular book, The Horse and His Boy, the narrative tracks the journey of a supposedly common boy, Shasta. By fleeing from his corrupt foster father with a runaway warhorse, Shasta finds himself in the middle of international power struggles, dramatic chases, and a race to inform the honorable northern kingdoms of a deceptive attack from the south. Throughout the journey lions hunt Shasta on two separate occasions, and also has an unnerving vision of a lion in the midst of some haunting tombs. The journey takes its toll on the youth; he reaches his breaking point on a foggy mountain pass as he falls behind his traveling party and is completely lost. At this point, he begins to feel sorry for himself and scorn his apparent great misfortune while sobbing.
The Breath in the Fog
However, at this point he also realizes that someone or something is walking beside him. While unable to see it due to the immense darkness, he could only hear the traveler’s breathing. However, he could sense that it was massive in scale, and this terrified him. After Shasta was able to work up the courage to say something to it, it invited Shasta to talk about his struggles.
Shasta “told him how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of the dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis (his traveling companion).”
The voice said that he did not consider Shasta unfortunate, to which Shasta responded by asking, “don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?”
The Lion’s Lesson
The voice then drops a bombshell and tells Shasta there was only one lion, and that he was that lion.
It proclaims, “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile that you should reach the King in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
As those familiar with Narnian lore know, this voice is the great lion, Aslan, who is the Jesus of Narnia. In sum, Aslan is telling Shasta that these apparently disparate aspects of the boy’s life were actually integral to bringing him to this present moment, and are profound signs of God’s presence, activity, and care in Shasta’s life.
Discerning in the Shroud of Confusion
I struggle to read this passage without tearing up, because of how easily it is for me to empathize with Shasta, and I know I’m not alone in this sense. As I struggle to follow God’s leading throughout my life, the apparent futility and clumsiness of my path quickly frustrates me, as it jolts and jerks from place to place.
Am I doing the right thing?
Why does everything seem so shrouded in uncertainty?
Should I persevere in the path I’m on, or should I change?
I can feel this struggle more acutely when I expect the same level of clarity in present choices as I possess when I think about past choices. As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20”. It is much easier to discern whether one of my choices was correct, or where God is moving in my life, when I consider it five years after the fact as opposed to the week it occurred. If I expect the same level of clarity regarding recent events that I have regarding events of the past, then it can easily mislead, confuse, and dishearten me.
Backwards and Forwards
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” This powerfully captures our plight; we can only really get a sense of our life’s story through the rear-view mirror, when we can see how initially diverse and separate storylines intersect and weave together as they all play out. Looking back on our past can bring a unique kind of coherence to our life’s that only comes from that remembering and reflecting. However, we can only live in one direction – into the future. As we live forwards, we usually work only with inklings and nudges.
So what can the Shasta’s conversation with Aslan teach us?
It’s that we can take heart and be courageous when we may be experiencing futility and frustration.
It’s that it is futile to seek a level of clarity and synchronicity in the present that only comes about through the passage of time.
It’s that we can hope that even the most fractured and apparently irredeemable aspects of our live will find a place in a much wider and beautiful story than we could’ve ever imagined.
May we all have this hope as we journey the foggy mountain passes of our lives, knowing that we too are joined by a lion as we traverse them.