Reconciling the Alternative
I staggered to a shallow place where I gained my footing. Holding onto my raft, I stared downstream, then scoped the surrounding landscape. I could hear my heartbeat over the rushing water and contemplated throwing up.
Convinced we had drifted into a theological and philosophical current that was sweeping us up into a deceptive river of abuse and manipulation, I anticipated the deadly waterfall that waited up ahead.
It would surely plunge us over the cliffs of desperation, and there would be causalities. In my mind’s eye, I could see my children’s heads dashed against the rocks of religion, their hearts eaten by the sharks of cynicism, and all of us drowned in the sea of despair!
A Deadly Dilemma
To crawl out of the stream meant leaving behind the raft we had built and proclaimed as authentic, a raft we had used to rescue many a wayfarer.
It meant the possibility of disappointing friends and followers who would eventually abandon us—and angering others who would fire on us with their 17th-century muskets just to justify their place in the stream.
It meant a steep climb with a confused and reluctant family in tow. It meant scaling the loose shale of the theological hillside dressed in heavy garb still dripping with sordid fundamentalism—clothing unsuited for any venture.
It meant dodging land mines and tumbling boulders aimed to keep us in the stream, all the while navigating the unfamiliar landscape with just a compass, uncertain where we were headed or where we would end up.
It meant scrapes and bruises, sore feet and bloody knees. It meant long cold nights shivering under the stars with little provision, hunkered down waiting for the evil that was prophesied to befall those who left the stream.
Evaluating my dilemma, I became confident of only two things: If we left the stream, we were in for a long, painful haul; but the alternative was worse.
Shortly after my 40th birthday, it became clear my health was in jeopardy. I needed to take action to thwart my growing waistline and waning health.
I had tried fad diets in the past—a lot of them. I tried cutting carbs, cutting calories, cutting meals, cutting off my tongue. Okay, not cutting off my tongue, but I was desperate. The only remedy I didn’t want to explore was going back to the gym.
Exercise had always worked in the past. I lost 40 pounds one summer eating sensibly and swimming five days a week. Every time I made exercise part of my life routine I lost fat, maintained my optimal weight, and gained endurance.
The problem is I hate the gym.
I hate the swimmy, nauseating feeling that comes over me when I work out. And I hate feeling tired, or sore, for the rest of the day.
I hate the inconvenience of getting dressed, traveling to and from the gym, and spending the hour or so it takes to do my routine. I’d rather spend that time doing something else.
I hate keeping track of my gym clothes, making sure they’re clean and available each day. And I hate paying the bill each month for something I so grievously despise.
I hate going to the gym because it costs me something. But I keep going because I know the alternative is worse.
Reconciling the Alternative
Nothing worth doing is ever easy; but not doing it is worse. Decisions worth making, goals worth setting, and dreams worth pursuing are going to be trying. They are going to be arduous. They are going to be time consuming. They are going to be expensive. They may even be dangerous or seemingly impossible.
Whatever they are, you’ll have to sacrifice something to achieve them. If there is no sacrifice involved, it’s probably not worth doing.
That’s why most people only dream—and talk! They talk about losing weight, talk about getting out of debt, talk about getting an education, talk about learning an instrument, talk about pursuing a career change, talk about writing a book, or talk about starting a business or ministry.
They talk because it’s cheaper than paying the price. And they keep dreaming to deceive themselves into thinking they’ll get around to it one day. These are the ones who die of the alternative.
The truth is, we’ll never do what is necessary to succeed at the important things until we reconcile with the alternative.
In the movie Divergent, Tris Prior must jump in spite of her natural desires—from Abnegation to Dauntless, from a train to a rooftop, and from a rooftop into a hole where she cannot see the bottom—only because the alternative (being discovered and exterminated) is worse.
During the mission portrayed in the movie Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell and his brothers-in-arms had to plunge off a rocky cliff against their natural tendency because the alternative (being shot by the Taliban) was worse.
Compelled to Act
It was Hadassah’s dilemma when she was called to stop the genocide of Haman. She was the only one with the power to intervene. But she feared losing her life on the harrowing mission—until she came to grips with the alternative.
Someone needed to stop a madman bent on genocide. The life of every Jew in the empire was at stake. Not even Hadassah was safe. Her first response was to retreat to the security she hoped existed in her husband’s courts. She was experiencing a form of Genovese Syndrome. It wasn’t logical, but her tendency was to cover her eyes and hope the monster wouldn’t see her while he decimated the rest of the Jewish population. But it was soon clear, not even she was safe from the coming holocaust.
-excerpt from Discover Your Significance
Until Hadassah finally understood the alternative was death, she wasn’t compelled to act. And that’s true for us even if the alternative is not literal death.
Procrastination can be the death of something else important, like a dream, or a relationship–or our heart. If the consequences of not acting are big enough, we will be compelled to do what me must to avoid the alternative.
Successful students finish their homework even when they don’t feel like it because the alternative is worse. Successful relationships thrive because lovers resolve conflicts in spite of their prideful inclinations, because the alternative is worse. Successful writers finish their daily word count even when they are tired or distracted, because the alternative is worse.
What is it you have been longing to do? What are you supposed to create? What decision have you been putting off making? What dream do you need to stop talking about and start acting on?
Now what’s the alternative? What will you have to live with if you don’t act?
Tell me about your alternative. Share your story in the comments?
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.