Making plans is remarkably simple in our GPS-ed and Googled world. We have the ability to find exactly what we want or need in a few keystrokes, or a few words spoken into our devices. We pick a destination, search along the route for coffee shops, air BnB’s, hot restaurants, and scenic overlooks (a.k.a. scenic backgrounds for selfies). Normally, and thankfully, things go pretty smoothly, and when they don’t, a few quick searches can often save the day.
But sometimes when things can’t be resolved quickly it can be insanely frustrating to find ourselves…waiting. We just want to get there, right? Get the trip part over and arrive at the destination. But sometimes the journey is the destination.
I’m reading a book about walking, and it has absolutely captured my imagination. I’ll give you a few moments to recover from the shock that a book on walking could enthrall anyone. I was shocked as well, but Robert Macfarlan’s The Old Ways had me hooked from the start with its account of traveling the ancient pathways of Britain on foot. (A quick aside: if you haven’t read Bill Bryson’s classic A Walk in the Woods stop reading and go buy it or check it out from your local library now).
As I read Macfarlane tell of the footpaths of England I found myself thinking of the early voyagers setting out with nothing but the stars and their own wits, and of how terrifying and exhilarating it must have been. Taking the leap is one of the hardest parts – but it’s just a part, the first step. Finding the path, the best way, the most desirable course, takes time.
And it takes courage. I find that’s what I often lack – the courage to wait, to look for the right spot, and to leap when it comes. Some of it comes from a long history of “waiting on God”, an over-spiritualization of things which served to take the impetus off my own responsibility and to make me sound holier than I am. Don’t get me wrong, waiting is very much a part of the spiritual life. However there is often an abdication of agency and responsibility involved when the “prayerful consideration” just goes on and on and on. I feel it in myself – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, of loss, fear of looking like a fool, so I mask it by appealing to the “holy waiting” angle. Sometimes you just have to find the courage to jump.
But what comes after the jump? How do we find our way? We can follow others who’ve gone before us (because, let’s face it, there are few paths truly left untried anymore). We can find an old path, overgrown and forgotten, and re-blaze it. It takes work, but there’s a reward in the effort. We can take the really difficult but exceedingly rewarding route and blaze our own trail. This is hardest of all, the riskiest, yet possibly the most rewarding. None of these is the right or wrong answer necessarily. The question is not right or wrong but which one is the path for me? Or for you?
And just because something is the right path I find myself assuming it will be easy. I know, I know…but I think we all do it, whether we admit it or not, and our disappointment when it’s NOT easy proves the rule.
We just moved half way across the country for the second time in five years, retracing the path we took moving to Oklahoma from North Carolina. It was a path made in faith, in hope, taken in exodus. It was a journey begun after much prayer and time. Now we find ourselves in familiar territory: needing to blaze (or re-blaze) a new trail, start a new life, begin again. There are markers we left behind, for sure, places and people which are not foreign to us.
And yet, with the passage of time, with the changes in our own lives, it’s not the same. Crazy how you can leave a place or a people for a relatively short time only to return later and be amazed by how much has changed. And I don’t just mean what has changed in the place, but how much has changed in you. The only constant is change, right? And yet most change happens so incrementally, so imperceptibly, we don’t notice it until we’re removed from the familiar for a bit. It’s like going on a long work trip when your kids were little and coming home to realize they’d learned totally new things and grown an inch while you were gone. Your absence for just a short while makes the change that much more apparent when you return.
The way may be familiar but the end, for all of us, is unknown. It’s a step at a time, a memory or marker at a time, until we get finally arrive. And none of us know when that will be, which is both a comforting and terrifying thought. So we keep going. If you hit a dead end, turn around, go back to where you branched off, where things appeared to go awry and try to find the way forward again. Remember: you’re not the only one. There are others are on the path with you, and few if any of us really know what we’re doing. This is also both comforting and terrifying.
And when you’re tired, when you’re weary, when your feet and hands hurt from the constant climbing, remember it’s ok to rest. In fact, it’s necessary in order to continue on your way. Assess how far you’ve come, think about what’s ahead. I think, too often, I just keep going, never considering what was behind or what’s before me. Wayfaring is as much about where you’ve been as where you’re headed. The journey up the mountain is just as awe-inspiring and meaningful as the view from the summit. You can’t reach the summit without traversing it.
Somebody blazed the trail before you, but they didn’t necessarily pick the best path, the best route. Remember that. There are opportunities for improvement. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s right, but neither is it right simply because it’s the newest, hottest path. The old ways can have their own issues, that’s for dang sure. Fresh eyes and ideas are necessary, but not always. Humility is required on both sides, so be humble enough to realize “maybe they got it exactly right.” Maybe, in this case, this is the best way.
And then get to walking.