For too long M. Scott Peck’s best-seller from 1978, The Road Less Traveled, gathered dust on my bookshelf. When recently starting it, I immediately felt my loss in not doing so sooner. This book conveys not only a secular psychiatrist’s religion-friendly observations on mental health but many practical principles about love and relationships.
I was pleased to find that Dr. Peck’s preliminary words on love validated and supplemented my own in “Dance of the Sexes”—an occasional talk I’ve given for decades. He expressed it bluntly: “Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love or at least one of the manifestations of love.” After showing why falling in love and romantic attraction are not love, he described the real thing. Authentic love is work. To face life’s challenges, it takes tools of courageous discipline, which he introduces at the outset: “delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing.”
When he wrote this book, Dr. Peck was not a Christian. I found myself disagreeing with him in some areas of ethics and theology. But our current culture urgently needs his psychological wisdom. Today’s society is unraveling at the seams from adults failing to grow up into authentically caring persons and parents.
Dr. Peck calls love a mystery with many facets that raise questions not “answered by sociobiology.” He frankly admits that “people who know the most about such things are those among the religious who are students of Mystery.” In fact, he finishes his book by addressing the “relationship between religion and the growth process.” While duly critical of “hand-me-down” faith or manipulative uses of religion, he boldly affirms that “an understanding of the phenomenon of grace is essential to complete understanding of the process of growth in human beings.”
It was perhaps this thought about grace that led him to explore the New Testament shortly after writing this book. Studying the Gospels doesn’t seem to have ended his religious eclecticism, but he said it did bring him to Christ. Already having recognized the importance of grace, Dr. Peck’s conversion testimony isn’t surprising. I read that, upon hearing of some scholars disagreeing on what made Christianity unique among world religions, C. S. Lewis candidly commented, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The 60s song that exclaimed, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” is true now more than ever! But authentic love has a divine source: the loving God of the Bible whose “grace and truth” were bodily revealed in His Son (John 1:14). For a “life less unraveled” I unashamedly preach our need for the Good Shepherd’s enlightening grace and guidance, but that doesn’t mean He won’t use liberating truths and helpful insights reported by those not yet in His flock.
While Christians may need to study it with spiritual discernment, The Road Less Traveled is a sound stimulus for healthier patterns of behavior. Bible reading and church attendance are both good practices, but neither guarantee personal maturity, productive lifestyles and successful relationships. Believers cannot shirk the hard work of love and expect to enjoy the blessings of psychological and social health.
For people struggling with stubborn attitudes and habits that keep them stuck in cycles of personal and interpersonal dysfunction, this book may be just the eye-opener they need. Its many examples from therapeutic case studies provide reality checks for those of us who think we’re doing “just fine” on our familiar, well-traveled roads. But the choice to pursue the discipline it takes to grow up into real love is, unfortunately, a road less traveled.
(a book available in most libraries, and on Amazon)