I once taught my three-year-old son to climb up on the lower branches of a cedar tree. I left for a while and when I came back he had climbed as high as a telephone pole, his toddler body looking rather tiny way up there. My wife was less than happy (revealed by a long scream), but I was able to climb up and retrieve him, and I assured her that it was completely normal for him to want to climb to the top. He cannot help but reach for new heights.
As a man you are naturally action oriented, and there is a deep and mysterious pull that draws you to new heights. You have within you a desire to go and achieve greatness, unless this desire has been obstructed by sin, laziness, or brainwashing.
This desire for new heights has meaning, it is there on purpose. You were made to search out happiness on earth and ultimate happiness in heaven. That is where all of the “going” in your life is oriented toward – being happy and finding God. The problem is that many of us get climbing toward the wrong things, and instead of ascending in virtue and holiness, we actually descend into vice and hell. How many people have you seen strive after things with their whole selves, yet ultimately end up unhappy? What good is it then? That is the foolishness of the world. We all search for happiness, but only the wise find it.
Consider the men that cut each other’s throats “climbing” a corporate ladder, or those trying to be “on top of the world” through power, promiscuity, or popularity. The problem with looking down from the top of the world is that it is still looking down, and it will disappoint. You were made to look upward, climb a higher ladder, one that reaches God Himself.
The question we have to ask then is this – how do we go forward in a way that truly fulfills this desire for greatness? How do we ascend? If you are young in your faith, but are ready to leave mediocrity and boyishness behind, and to set out as the man God has called you to be, then this question is more important than ever.
That longing for more is actually a grace. Faith is not a feeling, but a gift from God. And that gift is calling you to new heights, telling you to “go”. We can only go to these heights when we are in Christ and free from sin. Will you go?
But if sin keeps us from Him, keeps us chained to earth, how can we ascend to God in heaven? How do we achieve the freedom from sin that Christ win for us on the cross? Is it just a sort of “substitute” where when we get to the gates of heaven and, realizing our sin excludes us, just swipe a “get out of hell” card with Jesus’ picture on it instead of ours?
No, the salvation of Christ reaches us when we become one with Him as members of His body, the Church. We are still who we are, but “in Christ”. St. Paul in the Bible describes it as being “co-heirs” in His Kingdom (Romans 8:17). His royalty becomes our royalty.
This is what grace is, God giving His own life to us, sharing His life with us. He doesn’t just cancel a debt like a benevolent banker, but unites us to His cross and therefore His resurrection. St. Paul also describes it as a sort of adoption, where we become sons of God through the Son of God, by being united to Him. This is why we pray “Our Father” – we can never go alone. Jesus did not teach us to say “My Father”. We pray “Our Father” because we go to Him through, with, and in Christ.
My point in all this is to say that to “go forward in Christ” you have to first go to Christ. You must trust Him completely, listen to Him, and go forward at His command, not through your own ideas or engineering. You must say like St. Paul:
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
Our growth as men and as saints is just that, leaving behind the ways of sin and death and embracing life in Christ. You may want to reach new heights of holiness, and that is good, but as my son started on the first and most necessary branches, you too must start with this most basic request for grace. Speak with Christ, ask for this total faith, and in all your words, thoughts, and actions, go forward in Christ, because you have first gone to Him.
Jason Craig works and writes from a small farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is the Executive Director of Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.