Not all who wander are lost. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
Amidst the never-ending quest of looking for answers to the questions of purpose and calling, I entered into a Silent retreat. This retreat had been scheduled for the last full day of a conference I was attending in Atlanta. The challenge set before us was to do nothing, say nothing, plan nothing. Simply commune with God in whatever form that took.
Despite the indication to plan nothing, I had a vague sense of wanting to walk the extensive trail around the conference center, and somehow end up at the small chapel on the property for an extended time to sit and pray.
I began my journey with hope and a map.
There was a river on one side of the property and earlier in the week someone had sighted a snake on the trail next to the river. Because I HATE snakes, I decided against taking that trail. Unfortunately, I did end up on the path that ended up right next to the river. I tentatively followed the path for a bit and eventually came upon a small grove of bamboo, in which, I would have to walk through the center. Talk about an ideal snake haven! I retraced my steps and tried to find a better trail.
The next trail came to a fork. Deciding to follow the lower fork, I passed the water treatment plant for the conference center. (The smell lingering around it was a dead giveaway.) Gingerly walking past it, I made my way along the wide area which had a small path running down the left side. Ahead was a walking bridge and I used the structure as an indication that this must be the right path. But as I traveled toward the bridge, there was an increase in the frequency of scat (unknown source), and the path itself became more and more difficult to traverse due to the mud. Realizing this was going to be more than I bargained for, I gave up, turned around, and came back to the fork in the trail.
This time I took the higher path, and recognized this as the true path, well-traveled and well-marked.
Along the way, I passed familiar faces and sometimes strangers who were walking their dogs or taking a morning run. Off to the side, deer were peacefully grazing in a grassy area. Throughout the early spring barrenness of the woods were bright splotches of color from the blooming redbuds. It was lovely, serene, and welcoming.
I came to a cross roads in the trail. One direction was familiar to me and I knew it led to the chapel. The other, according to the map, would go to the Chapel, but would take a more circuitous route. I decided to follow the map and took the longer trail. But the trail veered off in a direction opposite the way to the chapel and seemed to lead through a residential area so, again, I turned around and retraced my steps to the crossroads.
As I began to walk on the familiar trail, the relevance of this journey struck me.
“God, you are showing me the story of my life in this little adventure,” I whispered.
I realized this journey of silence I took that day was revealing some characteristics of my life. Rather than feel guilt or shame on how I have seemingly wandered through life, God gave me some insights:
- Sometimes fear stops me on my journey, and perhaps that’s okay, because that route might not be taking me where I really wanted or needed to go.
- Sometimes God has protected me from going too far down the wrong path. He places nasty obstacles and swampy paths to turn me around and re-trace my steps.
- Sometimes God just shows me that a particular trail is not a bad path, but perhaps it isn’t really necessary for my destination.
At that moment, I looked up and saw at the end of the trail ahead of me, a redbud, blooming mightily despite the early spring drabness. It stood there as if God was saying to me, “This is for you. My gift to you for seeing your life has always been in My hands.”
“As with all disciplines, we should approach the practice of silence in a prayerful, experimental attitude, confident that we shall be led into its right use for us.” ~ Dallas Willard
This day had been an experimental experience of wandering. The results allowed me to become convinced of how God has been present throughout my life, and the wanderings which always seemed useless were accomplished with His hand on my back.
Do you view the wanderings in your life with regret? What might happen if you saw the wanderings as purposeful?
Bless you on your journey.