Just over a week ago, my husband and I hiked forty miles along the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. I had alternately looked forward to and feared the experience. I love the outdoors and hiking, but I feared that I wouldn’t have what it took to make it. I neither wanted to disappoint my husband (who had taken a team last year to hike a section) nor face that maybe I wasn’t in quite the shape I hoped I was in.
I started off on the hike optimistically enough but several hours in I realized that my pack was killing me. My husband had warned me not to carry too much and that every ounce counted, but I disregarded him thinking it could not possibly matter that much. After nine miles and several hours hiking, all I could think about was when I would get to take the horrible pack off. The next day was even worse. We hiked 11 miles with the last three taking every ounce of focus to complete. The next morning I had to come clean and say I just couldn’t continue carrying the weight I was carrying. So that afternoon we hiked down off the mountain and re-packed our packs making the load so much more manageable. The next few days of hiking still challenged me but the difference was huge.
I started thinking about what I needed to learn from this. A huge part of my lesson was clearly about humility and about being honest when I’m struggling. Having been in the ministry for 17 years, it can become too easy to always put forth the face I think others want to see. The face that says I’ve got it under control and that I can handle this myself. In fact, this isn’t just a ministry lie, it’s the lie I tell myself. Because I don’t have it under control, and I cannot handle this myself. As I plodded along, I realized there wasn’t much I could do to make this better. I could not go at the speed I saw other hikers going. I could only do what I could do. And as I went, I thought only of the next step.
This is, I think, one of the blessings of being outdoors: the ability to find quietness. Not necessarily quietness of sound—anyone who enjoys time outside knows that it is rarely silent—but quietness from the noise of my life. There was no job at hand to accomplish, no TV show to watch, no Facebook to scroll. In fact, the only thing I could do was walk. So one step in front of the other, I moved forward. I have always teased my husband for his ability to not think about anything. I have actually been envious, wishing I could turn my brain off and get a break. On the path, and even later lying in my hammock, I was the closest I had ever gotten to that place. I had no great epiphanies. Instead, I lay in my hammock staring off at beautiful mountain landscapes, or feeling enveloped in inky darkness, and I just was.
And it was this that I carried off the trail with me several days later. But it is this that I now find so elusive every day when I am done checking off my checklist. When I think about my lifetime of frantic doing and then look out into the busy but still work of nature, I see the disparity. Nature seems to accomplish nothing and yet does more than I could ever think. The water trickles and wears down rocks. The plant in infinitesimally small movements grows and reaches towards the sun. I must confess that I am a bit jealous. Nature seems to have the best of both worlds—clear and determined purpose and the will to do it.
My path is not so clear.
When I am busy, I feel like I am accomplishing things, but I see myself exhausted and snippy at the end of the day. When I pursue quietness, I feel lazy or am unable to quiet the demands. So what is the answer?
I am not sure. And I wonder a bit if the desire for the “cure” is part of the problem in the first place. Maybe the first step towards healing is letting go of the idea that I can fix this. Perhaps, like the psalmist says, my focus should not be on me at all. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).
Nature, unlike us, does not need this reminder. But I need it. I need to know that He can handle my inward angst, my confusion, and my fear. I need to know He won’t get impatient with me like I do with my children. I need to know that if I am not all I should be that He will just sit there with me in the quietness of the moment and love me just as I am. I need to know this so that I can worship Him as my God and my Savior and not just my taskmaster.
And I believe that when I really get it deep in my heart that it is enough then I will learn how to live the life God intended one step at a time.