5 miles of narrow, winding, uphill road remained between us and our destination, the Oregon Caves. Sometimes steep, the road wound its way upwards with tight switchbacks. About halfway up I realized something.
Despite the incline and the many tight corners, the drive was perfectly smooth and comfortable. Tight turns on a narrow road usually force you to slow down considerably, yet I was able to hold a constant 30 mph—and I was towing a travel trailer!
That’s when I started paying attention. Each corner was banked perfectly to the inside. The bank transitioned smoothly into the next turn. The road was slightly wider in the corner. The steepest sections were straight-aways. This road was perfectly designed for a smooth and safe drive. I almost ached to be on my motorcycle.
Who made this, I wondered? Somewhere there was a county roadworks engineer or someone similar, who studied the topography this road would cross, who calculated the grade, who carefully considered the turning radius of each corner.
This stretch of road is a work of art, but it’s the handiwork of an artisan who will never be celebrated. Most who drive up to the Oregon Caves won’t even notice.
This is a good model for life, I think.
It’s not all about accomplishments.
Our culture tells us that what matters most is our achievements, all those things we’re supposed to list in our bios. We value people who have built businesses, made films, written books, received awards, and all those other tangible manifestations of accomplishment.
It’s easy to get swept up in that expectation. We feel a sense of worth when we can point to those tangible achievements. Right now, for example, there’s a stack of boxes in my garage, filled with copies of my book The Wisdom of Your Heart. It’s tangible evidence of my long journey. I can look at those books and feel like I’m finally worth something.
Just as easily, we can see those tangible accomplishments in the lives of others and feel left behind. Maybe we missed an opportunity, or the season of our life has required that we invest in other things. We can feel bitter and frustrated because our shelf of achievements seems emptier than others we see in our social-media saturated world.
And so we keep focusing on the outward achievements, the accomplishments, the credits. But this is misguided.
Are you doing the hidden, inner work?
What matters in our lives is doing the hidden, inner work. This work will never get credit because most people will never notice it.
Everyday people experience you and I. They experience us through interactions. Friends and family, the barista, the clerk at the DMV. Every person we meet, speak with, cut off in traffic, everyone—even people on social media.
Will their experience be smooth or rough? Gentle or abrasive? Kind or cold? Caring or selfish? If they know that we’re Christian, what kind of Christian will they experience us as? Someone growing in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Or perhaps some other kind?
Their experience will not be rooted in our list of accomplishments. Their experience will be rooted in who we have become—and that is a result of the hidden, inner work that we’ve done.
That smooth road up to the Oregon Caves was made possible by a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work. Most people who drive that road will never even think about it. Their only experience will be how smooth the drive is.
In the same way, the hidden inner work that you do results in smoother relationships, better handling of crises, and more peace and satisfaction regardless of your circumstances.
The hidden inner work involves your heart. It’s the time you invest in your relationship with Jesus. It’s the work you put in to determine who you will be as a person. It’s the effort invested to face your grief, your pain, your anger and understand where they come from and why. It’s not work which lends itself to Instagram photos. It’s not something you’ll ever get an award for. But, it’s the most important work you’ll ever do.
Learning about your emotions is part of this work.
One of the areas that has been central in my hidden, inner work in the past years is my emotional life. I was not well equipped to handle my emotional life with maturity. When life circumstances brought wave after wave of pain, I nearly didn’t make it.
If you struggle with feeling numb and uncertain about your emotions, or on the other side, if you feel like your emotions are sometimes out of control, perhaps my book The Wisdom of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Power and Purpose of your Emotions might be of help.
This is just one part of our inner work, but it’s an important one. If it’s an area you want to grow in, I’d be honored to be a traveling companion.