Two Forward, One Back

The last time he came through my door, he was pushing a walker.  Slowly.  His leg was in a plaster cast and walking was painful.

Today, he wielded a cane.  There was no cast, so I could see the scar running the length of his calf muscle.  He was moving better than the last time I had seen him and I told him so.  His reaction was almost instantaneous.

“Whoa!  Don’t let this cane fool you!  It’s been nothing but two steps forward and one back.  I wouldn’t call that better.”

I admit it.  It wasn’t the kindest thing I could have done.  I’m not always tactful in making my point.

I simply stuck my right hand out in front of my face and lifted the fingers, one at a time.  First one, then two.  I shook them a little, then put one of them back down.  The index finger still stuck out and I waved it around, half playfully.

He got the point.

Making a nearly-grumpy comment about it not being me dealing with the pain, he laughed and headed outside after finishing his transaction, leaving me to contemplate the condition of all humankind.

Two forward.  One back.

It’s still progress.  I did the math.  

One plus one minus one equals one.  One is more than zero, right?

Just to be sure, I even made a little diagram in my head.

The little stick-man is standing on Point A.  He takes two steps, to Point C.  He turns around and takes one step back in the direction he came, to Point B.

He started on Point A and is now standing on Point B.  That’s what we would call going in the right direction.  Positive movement.

Can anyone tell me why it feels so much like being a loser, then?

I always wondered about that.  The red-headed lady who raised me used to spit out the words, as if they left a bitter taste on her tongue.

Well there you go.  Two steps forward and one back!  Again.

I was an almost-bright kid.  Loved number problems.  

If John has one apple and Mary gives him two more, but he has to give one to the playground bully, how many apples did he lose?

Be careful how you answer that question.  You might be surprised at how many people get it wrong.

From a safe distance, the answer is obviously none.  He actually gained an apple from where he started.  From a safe distance, that’s the answer.

Ah.  But what if you had held all of those three apples in your hand?  What if you had been the victim of that muscle-bound thug?

He stole my apple!  Thief!  I had three; now I have only two.

How quickly we claim ownership!  How soon our hearts become fixed upon the thing in our hand.

And the Teacher told them not to hold tightly to the treasure in this transient place where thieves steal,and where bugs eat and rust corrodes.  (Matthew 6:19-20)

But, what of my injured friend?  All he is doing is working toward a goal.  That’s a worthy purpose, is it not?  Surely, that is what we should all be doing?

twostepsIt is.  But, just as in all of life, if we begin to count the steps (either forward or back), we lose sight of the goal and also of how far we’ve come.

It matters not what the goal is—sobriety, fitness, a promotion at work—when we have a setback.  We think of it as a loss, regardless of how far we have come in our pursuit of the prize.

How easy it is to take our eyes from the goal when we experience a defeat.  

Earlier, as I drew in my head the chart of the little man advancing, my mind’s eye was drawn to the action many of us take in our two steps, one step dance.

We face the goal for our two steps forward, but turn back to take the one step back.  Suddenly, all we can see is the proximity of total defeat, the looming shadow of complete failure.  

What if I’m done?  I only made it two steps before.  Maybe I can’t do it again. 

What if all is lost?

Ah, but what if it isn’t? 

You know something?  No one ever achieved his goals by walking backwards.  No one.

Turn around.

The goal is out there.  Up ahead.

There is nothing behind us we’re headed for.  Nothing.

Up ahead—it’s all up ahead.

And the Teacher told them they would have troubles as long as they were in the world.  

Not to worry though.  I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

He’s got this.  He’s already done the math.  He’s already lost the apple to the playground bully.  And still, He finished—victorious.

Keep moving forward.

Yeah, two steps forward and one back will still get you exactly where you need to go.

In time.




Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.
(Corrie Ten Boom ~ Dutch Holocaust survivor ~ 1892-1983)


We are kept from our goals, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.
(Robert Brault ~ American writer)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

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