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The Principle of The PathHow to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be
By Andy Stanley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Andy Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSwamp My Ride
Now, if Louie and I had not been rescued by the stranger in the black Monte Carlo; and if we had, in fact, driven through the next set of barricades into a swamp, we would have done so for two reasons. And neither reason has anything to do with IQ, education, goals in life, net worth, looks, or church attendance. We would have ended up in the swamp because that's where the road led and that was the road we chose.
Anyone, regardless of race, creed, color, or sex, would have ended up in the same place had they chosen that stretch of highway. It didn't dead-end in one place for one kind of person and somewhere else for another kind. That unfinished stretch of highway was no respecter of persons. Everybody got the same treatment. And that's true of every highway, freeway, driveway, or path. It leads where it leads, regardless of who's on it.
Nothing new or original about that.
But here's where you may need some convincing. The principle you employ every time you look at a map or fire up your GPS (i.e., roads lead to the same place every time) applies to other arenas of your life as well. But what's perfectly obvious in the realm of geography is not soobvious in those other arenas. And, as we are about to discover, what's true geographically is equally true relationally, financially, physically, and academically. There is a parallel principle that affects parenting, dating, marriage, our emotions, our health, and a host of other areas as well. Just as there are physical paths that lead to predictable physical locations, there are other kinds of paths that are equally predictable.
Realizing that we are only a few pages into our time together, I don't expect you to accept my premise just yet. But before you start pushing back, consider this: What if I'm right? What if there really are financial paths that lead to predictable financial destinations? What if there are relational paths that lead to predictable relational destinations? What if there are emotional and spiritual paths that lead to specific emotional and spiritual destinations? I don't have to convince you that there are dietary paths that lead to specific health destinations. And we all know people whose lifestyle decisions led them to predictable predicaments. But what if those we-all-saw-it-coming scenarios reflect a universal law? What if there is a single unifying principle that governs what happens not only on the highway but in every area of life? I believe there is. I call it the principle of the path.
I refer to this as a principle because this isn't a rule you follow. Truth is, the principle of the path follows you. It's not a law. You can break a law. But the principle of the path has the power to break you. It is not an idea or concept you choose to apply. As we will discover, it is being applied to you every moment of every day. Principles are different from rules or laws. Perhaps an example will help.
When you were in high school, you probably studied Archimedes' principle. Ring a bell? No? It ought to, because every time you get in a pool, a boat, the bathtub, or a cruise ship, you are being impacted by Mr. Archimedes' principle of buoyancy. "But wait," you argue, "that's impossible; I don't even know what it is!" Maybe not, but you are impacted just the same. And to be fair, so is everybody you know. That's the nature of a principle. You don't have to know it or apply it to be impacted by it. And that's just the beginning. The principle that explains why a drowning man sinks is the same principle that explains why the flotation device the lifeguard throws in his direction floats. Go figure.
When the principle of buoyancy is leveraged, things float. When this principle is ignored or misapplied, things sink. According to Archimedes' principle, a body immersed in liquid receives an upward thrust from the bottom toward the top, equal to the weight of the displaced liquid. So five-ounce pebbles sink, and a fifty-one-ton battleship floats. Now, Archimedes was an inventor as well as a mathematician, but he did not invent this principle-he discovered it. Things were sinking and floating long before he came on the scene. He simply gave the world an explanation for something that had been happening since the first duck spotted the first pond. Knowing about his principle won't keep you from sinking, but learning how to leverage it will. That's the nature of a principle.
Like Archimedes' principle, the principle of the path is not anyone's invention. It is a discovery. A discovery that explains patterns that have been observed since the beginning of time. Specifically, the principle of the path explains why many people's dreams don't come true. It explains why intelligent people with admirable goals and ambitions end up far away from where they intended to be relationally, financially, educationally, emotionally, even spiritually. It explains why people who seemingly have everything end up with nothing.
But this same principle also explains why other individuals are able to attain the life and lifestyle they have always dreamed of. As Archimedes' principle explains both why rocks sink and boats float, so this principle explains why some people do well in life while others don't. But the principle of the path is more than an explanation. Again, it is a principle, which means that once it is discovered, it can be leveraged. To leverage something is to borrow or use its power. The principle of the path is a powerful principle, and its power is available to anyone who is willing to leverage it.
What Farmers Know
If you grew up around church or on a farm, you may be familiar with the principle of the harvest. As is the case with Archimedes' principle, whether or not you are familiar with it, you've been impacted by it. The principle of the harvest states that we reap what we sow. Sow apple seeds and you will reap a harvest of apple trees. Sow watermelon seeds and you get-you guessed it-watermelons. Nothing new there. This cause-and-effect relationship is in place whether you know about it or not. And it is in place whether you agree with it or not.
Chances are you've heard the principle of the harvest applied outside the realm of agriculture. The principle of the harvest applies to friendships, finances, and marriage. What you put into something impacts what you can expect to get out of it. Neglect your marriage or your health and the outcome is predictable. You experienced this principle at work throughout your time in school. What you put in determined what you got out. This principle operated in the background of your life whether you were aware of it or not. And if someone had brought it to your attention and you refused to accept it as true, it really would not have mattered. You were going to reap what you sowed anyway. That's just how principles work. And the principle of the path is no different. But whereas I've never met anyone who disputed Archimedes' principle or the principle of the harvest, I've talked to dozens of individuals and couples who refused to accept the principle we are going to focus on in this book. And the tragedy is, believing it or not believing it doesn't change the fact that it operates in the background of our lives each and every day.
At the beginning of the next chapter, I'm going to introduce you to and define the principle of the path. This one powerful principle, if embraced, will empower you to identify the paths that lead to the destinations you desire in a multitude of arenas. This same principle will aid you in identifying the paths you should avoid as well. Let me be specific. If you're married, this principle will help you stay married. If you and your partner embrace this idea, your marriage will get better. If you have kids, this principle will position you to hand off your values and worldview to your children. I've seen this principle heal broken relationships. Better yet, this simple idea protects relationships from being broken to begin with. If you're single, this insight will maximize your potential for healthy and enjoyable relationships.
When applied to the realm of finance, this principle will ensure that you live with more margin and less pressure. I've seen individuals and couples take this idea to heart and within a few months dramatically change the way they handle and view their finances. Sandra and I adopted this idea early in our marriage. We've never-and I mean never-had any consumer debt of any kind. And we've never argued over money. Granted, we've only been married eighteen months but ... Not really. We just crossed the twenty-year mark.
But that's just half of the story.
Embracing the principle of the path is the key to avoiding regret. All kinds of regret. Relational, professional, academic, moral, marital ... as a pastor, I've heard more stories of regret than I can recount. Hundreds. I've walked with individuals and couples through bankruptcy, divorce, custody battles, lawsuits, partnerships gone bad, and kids gone wild. I've listened to countless people tell me how badly they wish they could go back and do it all over: marry differently, date differently, spend differently, parent differently, live differently. But, of course, you can't go back. Anna Nalick is right: "Life's like an hourglass glued to the table." And for all you country music fans, Kenny Chesney is correct as well: "When your hourglass runs out of sand, you can't turn it over and start again."
Perhaps you've heard someone make the argument that experience is the best teacher. That may be true, but that's only half the truth. Experience is often a brutal teacher. Experience eats up your most valuable commodity: time. Learning from experience can eat up years. It can steal an entire stage of life. Experience can leave scars, inescapable memories, and regret. Sure, we all live and learn. But living and learning don't erase regret. And regret is more than memory. It is more than cerebral. It's emotional. Regret has the potential to create powerful emotions-emotions with the potential to drive a person right back to the behavior that created the regret to begin with. If regret can be avoided, it should be. And the principle of the path will empower you to do just that.
Now, I realize that's a big promise. I wouldn't blame you for being a bit skeptical. I'm well aware that the discount table at your local bookstore is filled to capacity with books making similar promises. But if you will indulge me for one more chapter, I think I can connect enough dots to convince you that this is not hyperbole. This is not a self-help book. I'm not offering a formula. I'm not going to provide you with seven steps. My intention is to bring to your attention a dynamic that is operating in the background of your life and the lives of the people you love. And if you accept my premise and keep reading, you will discover what I've learned about leveraging this powerful principle for your benefit. Because like the other principles to which I've referred, the principle of the path impacts your life every single day. And like any principle, you can leverage it for your benefit or ignore it and reap a harvest of regret.
Thirty-two years ago, a stranger in a black Monte Carlo raced ahead of me on a deserted stretch of highway and saved me from driving my car into a swamp. He kept me from ending up precisely where I didn't want to be. But he did more than that. He took the time to lead me to the road that would take me where I wanted to go. My hope is that this book will do the same thing for you.
Chapter TwoWhy Bad Things Happen To Smart People
Once upon a time, before there were six hundred channels, DVDs, and On-Demand movies, three networks pretty much decided what Americans would and would not be allowed to watch on television. And I'm not referring to a rating system; I'm talking content. If they didn't broadcast it, there was no way to get it. During that era one of the major networks decided that it would be a good idea to broadcast The Wizard of Oz annually on a Sunday night. That was really significant for our family for two reasons. First, we loved The Wizard of Oz. Who didn't? Second, it was on Sunday night, which meant we got to stay home from church! This was an event my sister and I looked forward to almost as much as Christmas. If you were to ask my parents to recount their memories of this sacred occasion, they would be quick to point out that I watched most of the movie from behind my father's big, leather chair. The witch was a bit much for me, even in black and white. But I loved that night nonetheless.
As you probably know, the plot of this classic film revolves around Dorothy's desire to go home. After all, there's no place like home. Dorothy may have been the only adolescent to actually believe that. But this is a fairy tale, so anything is possible. Early in the film, Dorothy meets Glinda, the good witch of the east. And it is Glinda who informs Dorothy that her only option is to seek assistance from the great and powerful Oz. Unfortunately, that will require a trip to the Emerald City. Upon discovering this bit of disconcerting news, Dorothy turns to Glinda and asks, "But how do I start for the Emerald City?"
Glinda, with her head tilted to one side and her arms stretched wide to avoid crushing that impossibly large skirt, responds, "It's always best to start at the beginning-and all you do is follow the yellow brick road ... just follow the yellow brick road." And as it turns out, Glinda was right. A bit overdressed, but she was right. Finding the Emerald City was simply a matter of following the yellow brick road. Granted, Dorothy encountered a few obstacles along the way, but she never got lost. She just kept following that yellow brick road, and eventually she found herself in the wonderful Land of Oz. Why? Because there was something special about Dorothy or her companions? No, because that's where the yellow brick road led, and that was the path she chose. Well, actually it was the path L. Frank Baum, who originally wrote the story, chose for her. But you get my point.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a yellow brick road that led to wherever it is you want to go in life? Imagine a yellow brick road that led to a marriage that made you want to come home early every day. What about a yellow brick road that led to financial security? Or a yellow brick road that led to better health? Imagine a yellow brick road that would lead you back into a relationship with someone you never thought you would be able to reconnect with-your dad, mom, son, daughter, best friend. What if there were a road that led out of the valley of guilt, shame, or even depression? If that were the case, you would stop looking for solutions to problems, and you would start looking for the right path.
Recognizing the distinction between a solution and a path is the first step in understanding the principle of the path.
Let me explain.
How absurd would it be for someone who was lost, miles away from where he wanted to be, to say, "I need a solution!"? Or to ask you to fix his problem? Wouldn't make sense, would it? When someone is where he doesn't want to be, he already knows the solution; what he needs is direction. There is no fix for being lost. To get from where we don't want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction. There isn't a quick fix.
Being lost or far from where you want to be is not a problem to be solved. There is no instant solution for being lost. One gets to the place one wants to be the same way one got to the place one didn't want to be-by putting one foot in front of the other and moving in a specific direction. Cars have problems that can be fixed. Computers have problems that can be fixed. Lawn mowers have problems that can be fixed. But generally speaking, people have directions that need to be changed.
I've talked to many individuals who want to discuss their problems. But they don't really have problems. They have chosen to live in the wrong direction. They don't need a solution. They need a new direction. If you aren't sure you're buying all of this, just look back at your own life.
Excerpted from The Principle of The Path by Andy Stanley Copyright © 2008 by Andy Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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