Into the Wilds
“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
There's nothing quite like walking a trail. It’s humbling to shed the veneer of the the man-made life we have created for ourselves and venture into the wilds. Pushing outside of our comfort zone and living with less than we thought we needed, is therapeutic to mind, body, and spirit. Some of the most lasting lessons I’ve learned in life have been on a trail.
“There is a measure of control surrendered at the gateway to the wilderness.”
It can be especially daunting, and yet exhilarating, to set foot onto an unfamiliar trail; pondering what wonders and challenges lie along the way in front of us. It breaks us down; forcing us into simplicity. It helps us to consider the difference between the man-made and God-created in our lives. There is a measure of control surrendered at the gateway to the wilderness. We venture into an environment where we do not hold all of the variables within our hands. We embrace a measure of danger and discomfort to experience the beauty, peace, and tranquility found in a cathedral not formed by human hands but by God Himself.
The spontaneity this requires of us is both challenging and liberating. We live in a culture that rewards plans, lists, schedules. Linear life, beginning to end is cleanly laid out. Success becomes defined by the bottom line. But what if there was another way? A way in which God (and not us) was responsible for success? -- And our responsibility was mainly to embrace the journey and be ready for the moments we encounter as we travel. We would have to shift the locus of control from our hands into God’s. To experience a deeper relationship, we would have to deliberately push out into the unknown, trusting God’s provision.
The life and ministry of Jesus appears full of this kind of spontaneity . At times there seems to be no particular schedule or agenda other than being ready along the way to respond to the needs of others. There are times for rest and relationship as well. He heals, teaches, and loves those he meets at the margins of life along the roadside; no tightly scheduled meetings, no carefully chosen participants, just open trail, encountering those who walk upon it.
God invites us into a process that embraces the unknown.
Over time, I have come to recognize the hidden blessing in not knowing the terrain ahead. When we leave behind our illusions of control as we experience the humility to grow and become what he intends for us to be. He calls us to step into the wilderness and rely upon Him. In this way we begin to experience the full measure of His love as we grow to trust him more and more.
It’s an open ended way of life that teaches us to rely upon God rather than ourselves. In this arena, who we are is more important than what we know. It’s not that God wants us to live in the dark, but rather that He wants to walk with us through it; to help us grow in our ability to trust Him; to experience an abundant life on His terms.
It makes me think of a passage from the Chronicles of Narnia, where Jill, a daughter of Eve, has a conversation with Aslan the great Christ figure lion of the tale --
“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
We are all thirsty for the deepest longing of our hearts to be sated; a longing to be loved unconditionally and to spend our lives knowing that love. But we have to surrender control if we are to know the depths of it; no longer asking God to bless our plans, but rather becoming swallowed up in His. The reward is life with God Himself.
It’s scary letting go. And God understands the struggle.
So he gives us His Word to guide and encourage us...
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
He offers us, not visibility of the whole landscape, but just enough to know where to place our feet next.
And He gives us Himself...
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Spontaneity is exchanged for rigidity and control.
Experiencing the love of God becomes a by-product of that process.
So, let’s look for ways we can embrace the unplanned and unknown. Maybe they are not the interruption of our lives that we thought they were. Maybe they are the journey we were meant to embrace all along; the plan that teaches us to trust God more than ourselves.