It is time for another of my children to recite “The Road not Taken.” I always look forward to it. They are also asked to memorize another Robert Frost favorite, “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening.” While the latter is more appropriate winter fare, I also ask them to tackle the “Road Not Taken” to coincide with Lent. It fits perfectly with the idea of dying to self that Lent inspires.
There have been many times in my life when I have felt that living the Catholic life is much like taking the “one less traveled by.” While our numbers indicate we are one of the most populous religions in the world we all know that saying you are Catholic and being Catholic are two very different things. The two paths of Frost perhaps.
This past election was filled with Catholics for whom the well-trod path was the course to take. While there were many people telling them that the route, though easy, would not have a good ending, they took it anyway. Perhaps they didn’t want to look down the lane to see where it would lead. As a result, we are all on the same path now for the next four years. We will just have to see how it turns out. Perhaps we will have some pleasant surprises as can happen during a long walk. We can only hope.
Throughout my life, I have seen myself before two paths. At times, I had the grace to chose the better one; other times, I didn’t. When I got married, I took the well-trod path of contraception. Sadly, I didn’t even know there was another path available, despite being married in a Catholic Church. My husband and I traveled that miserable road for several long years before being shown the other path by a good priest. He told us clearly and loudly the Church’s teaching and the gift of natural family planning. With his support we joined the families on this road that included an openness to life. Needless to say, with eleven children now at our sides, it truly has made a difference. But, honestly, living this life of faithfulness has been like getting off of I-95 here on the East Coast and using only the state roads. There are still a good number of travelers to be seen but there is a visible difference in the amount of traffic.
Once on that path, another fork soon appeared when it came to our children’s education. Our choices were traditional education routes or home schooling. At this time, the imagery of Frost’s poem is quite ironic. With little exposure to homeschooling, the very first family I met fit the image of a hiker perfectly. They were, for a lack of a better word, hippies. They wore hiking boots all the time it seemed or no shoes. They were early organic-only, grow-your-own and raise-your-own kind of people. I could picture them next to Frost and choosing the toughest path to blaze with their children at their sides. Honestly, their lifestyle was a little off-putting.
We might not have begun homeschooling except that one of the couples we met as a result of NFP was also homeschooling. This family would then introduce to me additional passionately Catholic families — some homeschooling, some not. These beautiful families introduced us to good priests, and so on and so on. We were soon be challenged to take paths much more daring than the hikers-hippies ever presented: the adventure of a committed Catholic family serving Christ first and foremost.
With homeschooling it was as if we went from the state roads down to local thoroughfares. The traffic on our path of life was reduced even more. Happily, local roads have their pluses. I have discovered that homeschooling has offered a variety of stops much like the main streets of small towns I live near. Diving deep into homeschooling has been a bit like discovering an antique shop where you can spend hours. Add to that a large family and your pace is decidedly downtempo when you regularly have toddlers to slow you down and show you a leaf.
Today, the once radical life of the homeschool hikers I first met seems so ordinary. Their organic foods are found at the corner mini-mart and the economy is making everyone think about a garden this spring. Even homeschooling is making the cover of major news magazines and with everyone thinking ‘green’, they aren’t the outsiders they once were. They have gone from the wilderness streams to the mainstream. However, the life we lead continues to be unconventional.
Before long the local roads we had been traveling brought us to the narrow gate. It was time for us to decide to let Christ be our guide in all things. We had only one real choice — it was for Jesus. “Enter by the narrow gate, the gate that leads to damnation is wide and the road is clear and many choose to travel it; but how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road and how few there are that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Gratefully, we have found some of those few. Some of them homeschool, some of them don’t. Some of them have large families, some smaller, but we all have one thing in common. We have chosen the rough road and we refuse to turn back. As a result, we witnessed some beautiful sights and been challenged in amazing ways.
Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. We can be lonely as we travel. It can seem that there aren’t many families who begin their days in prayer, or monthly confession or shouts of “God is good” when you find your lost keys.
I feel this sense of loneliness is complicated by the fact that we can clearly see the other path from where we walk. We have to use the wide path or are exposed to it on a regular basis. Sometimes it is unavoidable such as when we go shopping or take a road trip. We can also actively limit our exposure by the choices we make for ourselves and our family. Either way, though I may have to use the wide path from time to time, I never have to embrace it.
I know I am not the only mother who walks the longest path in the mall to avoid at all costs going past Victoria’s Secret so my children — sons and daughters — won’t see it. I choose carefully what television we watch and movies we see. Media are rarely a good source of role models. Sadly, many people don’t seem to realize that while the well-trod path seems unavoidable, it doesn’t mean you should be accepting all it offers.
Walking on the path Christ has given you cannot take you from the world, but you need not be in the world. The first letter of John speaks a good deal on this life we are called to live where John encourages us to be detached from the world (1 Jn. 2:12).
Hence the reason we learn this poem. Lent is the time to take a look at the journey you’ve been taking with Christ. Is there a new path, a less traveled one He has been showing you but you have been avoiding? There is always a deeper path for Jesus. A trail that will take you into a desert, along a beach, into a garden at night, and at the foot of the cross in an earthquake. Finally, when our path reaches its end, if we have been faithful companions with Him, we will be in a garden in the early hours of the morning and witness a miracle.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
All the difference in the world, and in heaven as well.