Over the course of the fall our neighbors have begun clearing off the hillside which separates our houses. What was once a thicket full of dense underbrush has become a neat little grove of trees. I have begun to take my daughter for little walks up the hillside to look at the trees and little stream that runs down the hill. I have noticed recently, especially since the snowfall on Sunday, that she sees the hillside quite a bit differently than do I. I see a small hillside with a few trees and a small stream; she sees a dense forest complete with a major creek (which must be forded at great hazard). Perhaps the greatest difference in our perception is I see very little underbrush, and what I do see doesn’t pose any obstacle to me. My daughter (toddler she is), on the other hand, seems to see treacherous hiking conditions which must be overcome with great strength and at boundless peril (or at least that is how she plays). I have tried to teach her simply to push the undergrowth out of her way and continue walking, but I still frequently hear, “I’m stuck” as she struggles to find a path. She has not yet been able to grasp the art of walking through the woods, especially not in snow.
While we were out on one of these adventures Sunday, Jeremiah 12:5 popped into my head “If you have raced with people and are worn out, how will you compete with horses? If you fall down in an open field, how will you survive in the forest along the Jordan?” and suddenly the walk took on new meaning. Jeremiah has been complaining that the road he is traveling is too hard, what he does not know is that his road gets harder not easier. God wants to remind him of this fact, and to redirect him away from his sullen mood and back toward God. If you are like me you sometimes get into Jeremiah’s mood, you get sullen and angry because your road seems much tougher than it has to be, particularly when compared to the roads of others (which always look easier than they are). God’s comment to Jeremiah was not meant as a defeating statement that he would never survive; but, part of a larger call to remain close to God. My daughter got through her dense forest, but, sometimes it meant staying close to me, sometimes it meant listening to me and paying close attention to what I said and where I walked. I think this is how God calls us to go through life with ever increasing devotion to him. God does not make the path easy, often the path gets rougher; and it is only by learning how to walk in the easy times that we can grow strong enough to walk in the more difficult times.
As we walked along on Sunday I began to think back to this past summer when I was fishing along a creek and encountered some of the densest undergrowth I’ve ever seen. The vegetation was so tall and thick I could not see over it or through it. However, I have learned enough about hiking that I could navigate through it. This is what I am preparing my daughter for, I am preparing her to be a real hiker, and the first step is to learn how to walk through the light weeds in this grove. As she learns to navigate underbrush she will be ready for more taxing hikes, she is preparing herself to run with horses. I want her to be able to see the majestic sights which are out in the world, to do so she must learn to navigate difficult paths.
As 2016 begins we are called to draw closer to God, so that we can be ready when we have to run against horses. Where does this begin, how do we prepare ourselves for the road ahead? By focusing on what God teaches us, by steadily looking for God along the path, and by not focusing on the current trial. Sometimes we get overly focused on the problems in life, instead of simply walking through them. Why? Because these problems often come with thorns and we are afraid of getting scratched, or they are thick and twisted and we are scared of getting lost or tangled. When I heard, “I’m stuck” it was usually a small weed had wrapped around her foot, or a small thorn had caught her coat. My daughter would focus on these issues and not on me or what I had told her to do and suddenly she could not move. We all understand that she was perfectly able of getting out of the tangle, but, she had lost her focus and shifted it from the solution to the problem.
But I was always near her giving her advice and help. God goes before us in the same way, offering us help and instruction. Our response must be to stop focusing on the negatives and setbacks, rather we must constantly look for God so we will not get stuck or seriously harmed. We may well still be scratched from the thorns, but, the thorns will not be able to impede our progress to the goal. The greatest beauty is often behind the greatest struggle. Go forward into 2016 in the blessings of God.