SummaryTara found the challenge of a family hike to be the inspiration of simple truths about blessings and gratitude and finding Jesus in the present moment.
My son, a Seton graduate, wanted us to visit his college campus. Though I had seen the expansive university grounds and the mountains cradling them, his father and siblings had not. Scheduling the five-hour road trip in November brought some challenges, but it was time to make the visit.
However, I could not manage more than a one-night getaway, so I advised my son to make the best use of our limited time. He decided on a family hike.
On the day after our arrival, we stepped onto the path of a three-mile journey up and down an autumn mountain. Taking my first steps, I had figured the day was meant to be a simple exercise in family bonding and physical exertion, but God had other plans. As we homeschoolers know, He often uses ordinary means to teach extraordinary lessons.
Will, Not Ability
At 49 years old I admit I’m more soft than firm (okay, firm has never been an adjective for my body). My regular exercise includes moving laundry and empty cups, bending to pick up stray socks and forgotten books, and climbing the three sets of stairs in our house. When I planted my first step on the trail, I knew my will, not my ability, would have to be the motivating factor to propel me forward.
Laying my running-sneaker-shod foot down, I heard the crisp crunch of the dried leaf carpet. Inhaling the cool mountain air, I tugged my zipper a little higher and tucked my hands into my pockets. I put the next foot forward, leaning in against increasing resistance.
Quickly, I fell to the rear, as the rest of my crew had far more stamina and lung capacity. Not more than a few yards into the ascent, my breaths felt shallow and labored. My calves stung from the contraction of my out-of-shape muscles. I realized I needed a strategy if there was any hope of me completing the hike.
Starve the Negative, Feed the Positive
So, I made up my mind to let go of the bigger picture and focus on the details. Rather than think about the three-mile trek, I would concentrate on the next step. Often big picture thinking leads me to unnecessary anxiety, whereas focusing on details tethers my mind to the present reality.
I resolved to savor every single observation and not stew in the what-ifs (what if my legs quit, what if I ran out of steam halfway through, what if I failed.)
In addition to remaining attentive to my senses, I committed to singing an internal litany of thanksgiving. I not only wanted to starve my negative thoughts, the big picture what-ifs, but I wanted to feed the positive.
I started with the obvious. “Thank You, Lord,” I sang in my heart, “for the ability to walk, for shoes on my feet and sweater on my back, for clear skies and moderate temperatures, for family and the opportunity to take time away…” I counted every big blessing and expressed gratitude to the One Who provided. Unsurprisingly, the more I praised, the more my eyes, heart, and lungs expanded.
Whistling Wind and Blooming Plants
Soon, my mind was so enraptured with the beauty of creation that I forgot the big picture scenarios entirely. My ears were attuned to the gentle whistle of the wind and the rustling of leaves beneath the joyful chatter of children.
I felt the flush of warmth that radiated across my skin as my body worked to keep pace and I sensed the subtle relaxation of my chest as my lungs adapted to the exercise. The soft green hue of plants in bloom on the mountain floor caught my eye, as did the puzzles of bare, twisted vines in the fall canopy.
Awe overwhelmed me, and I praised the Creator for every inch of the magnificent landscape He had placed in my path that afternoon.
Then, my mind’s eye opened to the unseen world of inhabitants above, below, and beside me. Stepping on the hard soil, I conjured images of vast insect armies marching around me. My day-dream led me to consider the lives of so many creatures who inhabit the same world. Birds nesting in bare trees, rodents burrowed out of sight, and countless insects climbing, flying, and marching – my mind considered the vast company through whose territory I was passing. And I thanked the All-Good God for every single one.
Having reached the halfway point on the trail, I expected the second leg would be a downhill stroll. Unfortunately, I discovered the return trek required just as much endurance and strength. Thankfully, I understood the strategy needed to complete it.
A Strategy for Hiking and Living
My steps came easier when I was not counting. The journey became light when I laid down the yoke of what-ifs and invited Christ to walk alongside me. Additionally, whenever temptations tried to push in, I drew closer to Jesus. Rather than denying the challenge or becoming overwhelmed by it, I whispered a prayer of surrender and entrusted my walk to His care.
At the start of 2021, God’s Plan, beginning on that mountain hike, is still unfolding. As the world spins into chaos anew, I am understanding the value of this present moment. Big picture thinking, while important for mapping directions and establishing goals, can rob you
of the beauty, peace, and fellowship that exists in the present moment.
Had I focused on the length of the hike, the challenge it presented, and my insufficient capabilities, I might have chosen to sit out. Or having started it, I could have quit as soon as my chest burned and my muscles ached.
But because I did not, I discovered a treasury of beauty and blessing. My eyes were opened to the reality of the vast world of creatures and living things that traveled along with me, each having its place and purpose, making its contribution.
A Plan for Freedom
Details matter; instead of looking at the big picture of 2021 or of your child’s education journey, focus on the present moment. Snuggle on the couch as you read a history lesson to your child. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and inhale the aroma. Call your friend and laugh together. Smile and wave hello to your neighbor. Take a walk and enjoy your surroundings. Sit in a spot of sunlight and feel the warmth on your face when giving a spelling test. Be attentive where you are. Love all who cross your path, in word and action.
Count your blessings and express gratitude. Say thank you to your cashier and delivery driver, your priest and mentor, your spouse and children. Teach gratitude by example. And above all, give thanks to the One Who supplies you with every good and perfect gift.
Adopting this strategy will not only make the course ahead easier; it is the key to unlocking freedom, a freedom no one can suppress. For Christ is in the present moment. Look for Him there; you are sure to find Him.