Which Truth?

tecumseh“Excuse me. Could you tell me which way to Wheaton?”

It’s a Friday morning, mid-morning (my day off). I’m in downtown Glen Ellyn, a smallish western suburb of Chicago. I’m walking toward the Prairie Path, a rails-to-trails recreational path that runs right through our small downtown.

She appeared harried, confused, and anxious as she approached me asking for directions. I point to the west.

“How far?”

“About 3 miles.”

I know how far to Wheaton. On that morning, I was about to run along the Prairie Path, precisely to Wheaton, where I would turn around and come back for a six-mile run. Actually, it’s only about 2.5 miles to the center of downtown Wheaton, 3 miles to the far western edge. That’s where I was going because I needed to get in a 6-mile run.

She also asked me where the train station was. I pointed to the brick building about a half-block from where we were standing. She walked toward that building as I began my run.

It was only later that I started asking myself about why she wanted to get to Wheaton and how she was going to get there.

From my house — not so far from the train station, it takes about 10 minutes to get to Wheaton by car. So close, it’s hardly worth thinking about. If she ended up getting on the train, it would have taken even less time.

Not infrequently, I ride my bike over to a coffee shop in Wheaton.  It really doesn’t take that long and I enjoy the 20 minute ride along the Prairie Path.

If I have to walk to Wheaton, however, I think twice about it. No longer is it a 7 minute drive by car, or a 20 minute ride by bicycle. It takes 45 minutes. That feels like more of a commitment.

On that same recreational trail, I run distances that greatly vary, from 3 miles to 20 miles. It’s a near-constant source of wonder to me that the distance I run is often not the critical truth that I experience.  Long runs sometimes seem short and short runs sometimes seem so very long. I can go out for 8 mile and it feels like it’s been 3. And I go out for a 3 mile run and it feels like 8. The distances haven’t changed. Only my experience of those distances. I suppose the different perceptions of the distance wouldn’t matter, except that there’s often an important truth that underlies my experience. On the days when the short runs seem long, I start that reflection process: what’s going on? Stress I need to pay attention to? Did I get enough sleep? Have I been training too hard (rarely is the answer to that question “yes”!).

So, why do I spend these paragraphs stating the obvious?

  • How far we’ve come or how far we have to go is not measured in miles.
  • Value is not most importantly measured in dollars and cents.
  • The weight my brother or sister is carrying is not felt in pounds.
  • The amount of time I have left in my life has little to do with the number of days or years before I die.

As a people, we could use a bit more reflection on the deeper truths that lay buried beneath the truths we can measure. These deeper truths reveal things like character and vision. These truths become especially significant when we have conversation about what kind of persons we want to be, what kind of church community we want to be, even what kind of nation and society we want to be.

The most important truth in any given situation at any given time is probably not the kind that’s measured in miles.

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