By Rebecca Wetzler: Purposeful overcomer sharing the fruit of faith
Author Masterminds Charter Member
The phrase The Road Less Traveled originated in 1916 from Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, using the last stanza:
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.
The simple reason Robert Frost wrote the poem was to poke fun at a dear friend of his, Edward Thomas, a frequent walking companion. Thomas would choose their route, yet invariably grouse that they probably should have taken another path. However, when Edward received the poem, he totally misunderstood its meaning as a serious reflection on decisive action.
Frost was disappointed his joke was missed, but later admitted it was a tricky poem, knowing it was thought-provoking with dichotomous application. Subsequently, two schools of thought developed for what he meant by ‘I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’
The more popular thought for choosing the path less traveled was it ultimately made a positive difference in his life despite its challenges. However, the second interpretation is that, though the paths seem different at first, upon closer inspection, the fact was time ‘Had worn them really about the same.’ Therefore, given the choice of which road to take was not clear, perhaps the point of the poem is that there will always be a lingering wonder and possible regret for ‘The Road Not Taken.’ What is clear, however, is that choices are required, and they make all the difference.
For many readers, the imagery of crossroads in nature evokes spiritual metaphors for meditative decision-making at the crossroads of life. Robert Frost himself never made his spiritual beliefs clear, which has caused much speculation about what he was communicating in his works since spiritual elements are found in some of his writings. He talked about God with others and contemplated the possibilities of His existence.
His mother raised him in the Swedenborgian church, also known as New Christians, which is considered a cult by most Christian denominations. Its central belief is that God is one person in Jesus Christ, rather than the biblical Trinity of three in one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Did Frost follow his mother’s faith? Or was he agnostic, though he contemplated it, explored it, he did not commit to any spirituality? Regardless, his mastery of literary expression with its lyrical rhythms, ambiguous depths, and psychological complexities inspire his readers to commune with their spirits, exploring hidden meanings.
Other writers were inspired by the phrase using the premise that choosing the road less traveled made a positive difference in life. The most notable was Dr. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and self-professed Christian Mystic. His book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (originally entitled The Psychology of Spiritual Growth), along with his subsequent similarly themed books, have become classics associated with the New Age Movement (which emerged in the 1970s), though he did not label himself as such. He was a Buddhist when writing the book in 1978, followed by in 1980 he claimed conversion to Christianity. However, though his version of spirituality used legitimate biblical theology, he retained eastern religious beliefs, including pantheistic monism, meaning God is all things, all things are one and given we are one with God, then we are God, and will recognize this as we advance in our spiritual growth.
Peck’s eclectic approach resonated so well with millions because he stated right out that ‘Life is difficult,’ but then proceeded to offer the solution to life’s mental and spiritual problems was to embrace the pain of problems because therein lay the meaning of life. He presented great insight into the human psyche with practical advice on self-discipline, problem-solving, caring for others, and fulfilling one’s potential.
His spiritual growth theology deviated from Christian doctrine by melding spiritual enlightenment with attaining mental health stasis via encouraging readers to ‘transcend’ traditional cultural mores. This teaching fed in well with New Age spiritual pluralism, which supported the misdirection that saving oneself is found in being conscious of the God within one’s moral consciousness regardless of religion, rather than the traditional belief that salvation is found only through accepting the literal sacrifice of God’s Only Son Jesus Christ for our biblically defined sins, saving our souls for eternity.
When it was initially published in 1978, Peck’s book would have been considered the road less traveled given the New Age movement was in its infancy. In more recent times, in 2011, another writer was inspired to simply title his memoir The Road Less Traveled. It is a lesser-known book written by Charles E. Cravey, a 39-year pastoral veteran of the United Methodist Church. He said the book was his attempt at ‘putting an exclamation point’ to his life, a life he has found to be a collection of precious and memorable experiences—experiences he had because he took the road less traveled and is living a life serving others through Christian ministry. Through the years, he was inspired to write a treasure trove of poetry mixed with short stories encompassing family memories, unforgettable mission trips, ministerial undertakings, emotive eulogies, scriptural lessons, and biblical instructions he compiled into a devotional representing life lessons learned.
Though he did not explicitly refer to Frost’s poem, Reverend Cravey utilized phrases from it in his book, demonstrating his familiarity with it. Based on his work, readers are presented the traditional Christian culture mores anchored in biblical truths, in contrast to Peck’s work. By the time Reverend Cravey’s book was published, the New Age Movement was well entrenched in our society, having enjoyed decades of growth with its attractive self-centeredness yet inclusive diversity, untethered by traditional dogmas.
In accepting individually defined morality, which will not lead to utopian anarchy the New Age diversity envisions, their movement helped deteriorate the necessary societal structure provided by the fundamental spiritual beliefs it opposed. Adhering to biblical truths is indeed the road less traveled, as evidenced in these familiar scriptures. Matthew 7:13-14 talks about entering the narrow gate, for wide is the gate that leads to destruction. Proverbs 14:12 warns that away may seem right to man, but it may lead to death. Then one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 30:21, says ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk [ye] in it.”’
We must listen with discernment to hear God’s voice and obey His instruction. However, humanity is innately independent; God gave us free will to believe and do what we want. Subsequently, our initial nature is to not like being told what to do, especially by an unseen authority speaking through an ancient text, the Bible, which has centuries of controversy about whether it is the inherent Word of God, should He exist in the first place. Only faith makes belief and obedience possible.
It is interesting to note that according to a 2011 HuffPost blog post by Howard Steven Friedman, statistics indicate the four largest religions have millions or billions of followers: Christianity 2.3 billion, Muslim-Islam 1.5 billion, Hindu 900 million, and Buddhist 400 million (the Non-religious/atheist population was estimated at 1.0 billion). Based on these statistics, Christianity seems to be the Road Most Traveled. It depends on how a person defines their own individual faith in Christ, though, that determines whether they are on the biblically prescribed Road Less Traveled.
I embrace the interpretation that Christianity is a devoted relationship, not just professing belief in a specific religion. My relationship with Christ is foremost in my life, integral to my identity, whereas basic religion is a set of rules to be followed, and it may or may not matter if there are consequences for breaking them.
We all know about the Ten Commandments, and the harsh punishments meted out in the Old Testament days if not obeyed. Nowadays, few of them are legally punishable, pretty much only Do Not Steal and Do Not Kill. The rest have been relegated to good character traits: honoring God (consisting of having no other gods, no idols, not take His Name in vain, keeping the Sabbath holy), honoring parents, faithfulness to vows, truthfulness, and being content with one’s own lot in life.
In the New Testament, Jesus re-stated the Ten Commandments into two, found in Matthew 22:36-40. Jesus tells the disciples the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and the second is to love others as yourself. These spiritual truths are not religiously universal; they exist only in Christianity. Loving God and loving others involves subordinating our own wants and desires, even needs, to serve God and our fellow man. We need to seek His will before we make decisions, or risk heading down the wrong path in life.
Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” By studying His Word, praying for His guidance, and daily inviting His presence into our lives, we will follow the path He has set before us, even if it appears dark and difficult. As we live what we believe, others will see how our faith overcomes adversity and keeps us returning to peace that passes understanding. And though there may be a time when we nostalgically think of the seemingly easier road not chosen, we realize by following God’s lead, we indeed did chose the better path, and it has made all the difference.
The Road Less Traveled was first published with Readers and Writers Book Club: https://readersandwritersbookclub.com.