Leaving Vanity Fair

John Bunyan's Christian classic, The Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan’s Christian classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, has been called the first true novel.

If life is a journey, as John Bunyan indicates in his Christian classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and if there is a place along the way called “Vanity Fair,” then many of us are probably in that place right now. Many of us may even feel that we are stranded there, much as the guests of Casablanca felt, helplessly waiting for an exit visa that never arrives. We are overwhelmed with an addiction, an illicit relationship, a bad marriage, a career dead-end, an empty retirement account – whatever. Where is the way out of our Vanity Fair?

John Bunyan writing Pilgrim's Progress in prison

Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678 while in prison for preaching without a license.

Ask yourself this: What in my life have I been wasting my time and/or money on? Is this really where I want to be; or, if God should decide to take me suddenly, is this really where I want to end my life? In Vanity Fair?

In Bunyan’s book, Vanity Fair is full of all the enticements of life: success, money, power, prestige, sex – all that one’s heart could desire. And yet, there is no fulfillment, no satisfaction – just emptiness. The people of Vanity have empty eyes and empty souls. They are a joyless, hopeless, unpeaceful lot – and they have no love. That’s their problem. Is that where you’ve been living, as you’ve pursued some winged dream?

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair, where Buyan’s hero, Christian, gets waylaid, is a place of many enticements.

It’s easy to end up in Vanity Fair, because that’s where all roads in this world lead. It’s unavoidable. The question is, how long will you remain there? How long will you linger in front of the colorful tents with their streaming banners and barking midway men, promising things that only God can provide? Promises of fulfillment, intimacy, satisfaction, even success, if only you will use their pornography, take their drugs, drink their alcohol, get involved in their illicit relationships, buy into their get-rich-quick schemes, believe in their political candidates, obsess over their sports teams, buy their lottery tickets, watch their movies, listen to their music, read their books, adhere to their philosophies, follow their advice, worship their god, purchase their products… They are all lies.

When will we stop listening, stop believing… and leave Vanity Fair?

Christian and Faithful being accosted

Christian and Faithful being accosted by the citizens of Vanity for their faith.

It’s difficult to hit the road again, having once partaken of the delicacies in Vanity Fair, because it gets into your blood – your nostrils, your eyes, your ears… your heart. There is only one way to leave Vanity Fair, and that is… just leave. You cannot reason your way out. I don’t even think you can pray your way out, although you can pray for the strength to leave. But in the end, the only way to get out of Vanity Fair is to turn your back on all the voices, the colorful banners, the music, the enticing aromas, the entertainments… and leave.

Eventually, hopefully, you will become so sick of having your heart broken and hardened, that you will once again try to listen for and hear the faint voice of God calling to you in the distance: “Come away, come home.” You will become so sick of trampling your real dreams into the dust, that you will pick them up and re-examine them. What were they? What was it you wanted to do with your life? What was it that you believed in before you got lost in Vanity Fair?

 Faithful being burned for his faith

Christian was able to escape with his life, but his companion, Faithful, was burned for his faith.

You know how Christian, Bunyan’s hero in Pilgrim’s Progress, manages to leave Vanity Fair? He’s locked in a jail cell awaiting execution. His traveling companion, Faithful, has already been burned at the stake for not participating in the materialistic, lascivious culture of Vanity Fair. Now he’s waiting for his punishment, and as he waits, he finds a key in his pocket. It’s labelled “Promise.” It was there in his pocket all along, only he didn’t realize it. The key opens the door to his jail cell. It is the promise of God that sets him free and allows him to leave Vanity.

Before you can leave your Vanity Fair, you must come to yourself and remember who you really are, where you came from and where it was you were going. You must remember to whom you belong. And you must remember what He has promised you in Christ.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going… For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:18,10

“… they [i.e., those who live by faith] desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

Where are you in your journey? In Vanity Fair?

Where are you in your journey? In Vanity Fair?

The road between Vanity Fair and the City of God is sometimes cold, sometimes lonely, sometimes difficult, and at times even dangerous. But we have very good traveling companions – Christ, for one; and also our fellow pilgrims. But unless we leave, we will never know them. God has given us His promise. Now all we need to do is use it and leave.

It doesn’t take desire. All it takes is leaving… the desire will come later, because desire follows action, not the reverse. And one day, on down the road, sitting around the campfire, we’ll think back on Vanity Fair, and we’ll look at what we have in its place, and we’ll say, “I am so glad I left that wretched, horrible place!”

You know in your heart what you must do. The key is in your pocket. You have the promise. Just leave.

Happy New Year!

For resources for this article, go to my web page, “Leaving Vanity Fair” – you won’t be disappointed!

If you’d like to see more on Christian Character, go to my Christian Character website.

Waitsel Smith

Waitsel Smith, January 1, 2012

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Text © 2012 Waitsel Smith. Photos © various sources. All Rights Reserved.

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