I like to see a lot happen in a hurry. I’m wired for productivity. An ordinary walk for me is usually spent multi-tasking – phone calls, podcasts, audio books. Today’s walk was different.
My hosts recommended the walking path around the lake behind their home. So, on Sunday morning, before church – but after coffee – I headed toward the lake. I told myself I would be distinctly focused on my very clear purpose. I had been reading about rest and renewal for Christian leaders. I needed it for myself.
I felt like I was on a runaway train – and not on the right track! My schedule was overfilled with critical issues, conversations, and conundrums. During every task or appointment I was plagued with guilt about all the people I was NOT talking with, and all the problems I was NOT solving. In her book, Feed My Shepherds, Flora Slosson Wuellner suggests taking walks with no agenda but to seek God. I definitely needed God.
I arrived at the walking path and a glistening view of the water. It looked like a long way around the lake. I hadn’t asked anyone just how long the path was. I turned right intending to walk a distance and retrace my steps rather than take the loop all the way around the lake. Within minutes I spotted a walker heading toward me from the far side of the lake. He looked like someone I had seen in the clothes closet line at the homeless mission. He lumbered toward me. “If he can do this, I can do it.” I determined to make the entire loop around the lake.
As I rounded the first bend I marveled at the water: emerald green and glassy, calming to look at. I thought how nice it would be to sit on the bench next to the walking path and soak in the sun and the scenery. Instead I sped toward the next turn in pursuit of whatever sign God had for me. I was pleased with myself to be on such a spiritually motivated journey.
I attempted to follow Wuellner’s suggestions. I looked at every tree to see if there was some sign in it for me. I noticed every bird. I looked at the clouds. Now a couple was walking toward me. Were they friends? Mother and son? I felt for my phone in my pocket. A conversation would make this walk productive. Scrolling through my address book, I recalled my purpose – no purpose…only to seek God. I put my phone back in my pocket.
On the backside of the lake, a little over half way around the loop, I passed a jogger. As I neared him I picked up my pace. I suddenly realized how lazy I must appear to onlookers, meandering along a path while they were legitimately exercising! I turned the next corner and remembered my purpose again. Slowing my walking and my breathing I sensed it was much windier on this side of the lake. The air was frigid and the left side of my face was alternately stinging and numb. The water here was choppy and the sun had disappeared behind the clouds.
I was perturbed. I told God as much. I spent my morning walking all the way around the lake with no word from him. I saw no signs or wonders. No sacred symbols in the trees, or birds chirping spiritual messages, or cloud codes to decipher. Nothing. I did my part. What had been the point of this spiritual exercise if there was no word from the Lord embedded in it?
I turned left, then right, taking the path away from the lake toward my host’s home. In the same way you judge others, you will be judged… “What? Who had I judged?” The picture of first walker was present in my mind’s eye. Nailed! I had compared myself to him – a total stranger. And somehow I felt superior in my own ability to complete my mission. So many other comparisons came to mind: colleagues for whom I perceived myself a role model, and the leaders around whom I felt inadequate. There were the successful fundraisers, coordinators of really big events, and parents expecting me to help their kids pull it together. Just recalling these comparisons was stressful.
There was the walking duo. I wanted a conversation with someone who would give me insight and perspective. James’ words came instantly. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Without God’s wisdom I am judgmental, unstable, and stressed out. I would have settled for human wisdom. I did not trust God to give me wisdom directly. Yet, he did…and he does. I receive God’s wisdom most often when I depart my routine; when I leave the noise of so many voices and messages.
I was catching on now. I had thought about speeding up by the jogger. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah’s words were convicting. I was unsettled, worn out, and distressed. There were so many decisions to make; so many people to answer to; so many critical issues to resolve. My unfixed thoughts swerved from seeking God to attempting to keep up with others. I thought of some of the people I had tried to keep pace with over the years. It was exhausting.
He restores my soul. I wanted restoration my way. I planned for productivity. God does not restore me in accordance with my do more, talk more, plan more, style. He wants my focus. He leads me beside still waters… He did. I can’t calm the waters, or life – for myself or anyone else.
I was nearly back to the starting point of my walk, sensing a strange mixture of conviction and contentment. God spoke to me. The Creator of the Cosmos met my need – a need I didn’t know I had. I was transformed by the renewing of my mind. I used to think Paul was telling the Romans to just read more when he wrote that. But today I knew the source of all life and truth and wisdom renewed me – personally and directly. I was transformed, on an ordinary walk around an ordinary lake with an extraordinary father.
Dr. Teresa Moon, founding President and CEO of the Institute for Cultural Communicators, is an internationally-recognized seminar speaker, education consultant, author, and leadership coach. Each year, she travels globally equipping students, teachers, and parents to become “cultural communicators,” transforming ordinary students into extraordinary communicators and authentic leaders.