We remember our elders advising us that as we grew up we should broaden our horizons. By this they meant that we should pursue educational opportunities; we should travel to new places; we should consider new ideas and new outlooks; and we should welcome new people into our lives. In other words, we should never be afraid to challenge ourselves with what we didn’t yet know. There was a presumed virtue in looking outward and onward, in opening our minds.
We haven’t always been successful in broadening our horizons. Frankly, it’s easier to stay put, shut down, push back and close off. Continual broadening, after all, is hard work. And it can be risky. It might change our loyalties, our dreams or our beliefs.
When author John Steinbeck wrote a journal about his work and life, he was keeping his young sons in mind. They were just 4 and 6 at the time, too young to know the world’s great stories, he said. And so he intended to tell them one of the greatest in writing his next novel, “East of Eden.” He intended that one day his story would broaden their horizons and challenge them. It was to be “the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness … I shall tell them this story against the backdrop of the country I grew up in and along the river I know and do not love very much. For I have discovered that there are other rivers.”
Steinbeck succeeded in creating a masterpiece. Perhaps his success was due in part to having discovered those other rivers. It’s an intriguing thought. Have you ever been swept away by newness that challenged the status quo and washed up something wondrous? Have you had experiences that opened your mind in undeniably important ways? Have you discovered other rivers? They might be literal rivers, or they might be ideas and inspirations that have flowed into your life, bringing fresh perspectives, and allowing you to see other possibilities.
In the course of our lives we have returned again and again to a great story that has flowed through our lives, ever fresh and new, like another river of ideas and inspirations at every encounter. This great story has given us glimpses of good and evil, strength and weakness, love and hate, beauty and ugliness. It’s the story of God’s encounter with our world, flowing on and on.
Yes, whenever we venture to approach that mighty river of inspiration, there’s the danger we might face a significant challenge. We might be moved to reconsider our assumptions and convictions. We might discover something that upsets our equilibrium a bit, or sharpens our vision, or stretches our hearts. We might be placing ourselves in the hands of the Author of Life, who just might rewrite our stories.
Still, we’ve discovered it’s best not to fear that possibility, but to risk it. After all, we just might find ourselves, by God’s grace, characters in an eternal masterpiece.
And that’s the best possible way to broaden one’s horizons.