Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

MONDAY, MAY 4, 2009

Finding Our Way Out of the Wilderness

First, a story, then a reflection…

Let me begin by saying that God did an awesome job in the North Dakota Badlands! Beautiful country, so beautiful you could get lost in it. Which I did. To make a long story short, a friend and I went off trail down a hoof track, had an awesome hike, stopped for lunch, and then couldn’t find our way back. What was such a clear path leading one direction was not at all clear when you went the opposite direction. We found several hoof paths we never noticed going in, tried out many, but none seemed right. We kept having to go back to our lunch spot to try another one. Finally, out of the process of elimination, we found our trail, and with huge sighs of relief, we set off for the car.

All went well, until we got back to the main trail. And again, we found ourselves at a loss – what seemed like one trail leading out, turned into about four possible trails leading back. Did I mention that the main trails look exactly like hoof tracks? Again, we tried one after another, and none looked or felt right. There was one trail we couldn’t try – three bison had decided it was a great nap spot and there was no way around them, so we finally just picked a hoof path and took off, even though we knew we were not on the right trail. We just had to commit ourselves to a direction and go, risks and all, and hope it got us close to where we wanted to be. (Yes, I know, all advice says stay put, but trust me, that was not the best option in this case!)

It was a very humbling experience, but it was also very empowering. We knew that if we kept trying, we would eventually find our way out. But if we panicked, or if we froze, or if we waited for someone else to come along and rescue us, it could have been very bad. We had to step out in faith, and take the risk that even if it we weren’t on the best path, it would still get us where we wanted to go. Needless to say, we made it out, and we felt awesome!

These are confusing times for the church. By now we’ve figured out that if we stay right where we are, that’s not a good thing. But there is no clear path forward. Instead there are many paths, many directions, and we have no guarantee which one will get us where we want to go, that is, if we even know where we want to go. What worked for us was that we knew the general direction we needed to go, and even if we weren’t right on the right path, if we kept as straight a path as we could, we would eventually find our way out.

In the church, we may not know exactly which way to go, what to do, or what “program” to follow. But we do know the general direction we need to go. I would draw your attention to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as a good guide: seek to make peace with others, walk humbly in this land, show mercy to all, offer grace to all, work for justice, right wrongs when you can, care for others, keep your word, love your enemies, give generously. If we, individually and as congregations, go further and further down that path, then I believe that we will eventually find ourselves where God desires us to be, and let me tell you – not only will it feel awesome when you realize you’re heading the right way, but you’ll be able to look back at where you’ve come and see the beautiful footprints you have left behind in the lives of others.

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