Over Christmas break, while staying with my parents and brother’s family at the endearingly rustic Turkey Run Inn in Southern Indiana, the unseasonably warm weather and our wide open schedule beckoned us out of doors for a nature hike. We made for a motley crew of explorers, my husband, Troy, our three oldest kids, niece Isabelle, and I. The ground beneath our boots was sometimes slick, sometimes slushy, and the view, rich with frosty creeks, frozen waterfalls, intimidating gorges, and miles of barren trees, was downright spectacular. We’d no idea what to expect, having never trekked through that State Park before. Each turn and twist along our trail exposed us to all new breathtaking sights, as well as challenges.
About 45 minutes into our adventure, we inadvertently wandered into what the map referred to as “rugged” territory. Gone were our clearly marked level paths; the going for sure got a little rough. Instead of walking, we slipped, slid and bear crawled our way over narrow ravines and up steep ice covered inclines. The kids (oh what amazing little troopers) and I relied heavily on Troy to physically guide and support our unsteady limbs through a wilderness-themed obstacle course. “I can’t go any further,” more than a couple of us whimpered, but having no other options we were forced to rally and keep lumbering along. It was three hours after starting our hike, full of energy and gusto, that we finally arrived back at the Inn, all hungry, beat and bedraggled. “How was it?” my mother asked us when we met her in the lobby. And reveling in our newfound tenacity, aching muscles, the smell of fresh air on our skin, we answered, “Awesome!”
As I look back on 2010, with all of its unanticipated thrills, lessons and hardships, I cannot help but wince a bit at some of my past missteps. Let’s just say I didn’t make my way from January clear through to December without a few nasty spills. And it’s tempting, believe me, to stop there - to focus only on what needs to change in 2011 in order to ensure I’ll be a more successful mother, wife, homemaker, Christian, etc. I am wondering now, however, if approaching a brand new year with a lengthy list of lofty resolutions in hand is really all that healthy. You see, I am fully aware that the obsessive crafting of specific ambitions is how I often attempt to manipulate and control life’s pesky uncertainties. When everything - every relationship, every accomplishment, our health, our incomes, our reputations, are vulnerable to change, or even destruction, we can resort to some pretty silly methods for either denying or fighting back against that unpredictable and omnipresent threat known as death (which comes in many forms) to our ideals. Such approaches (all of which I’ve fallen prey to) include, but are not limited to, the following:
* A preoccupation with diet and exercise
* A fixation on various kinds of illnesses and cancers resulting in the late night googling of perceived symptoms that results in nothing but anxiety and hysteria because, according to the Internet, all coughs, aches, bruises, twitches, and bumps point to brain tumors.
* The accumulation of things - things to make our houses pretty, ourselves pretty, to keep us comfortable and entertained. I store up treasures here on earth when, due to my own lackadaisicalness, the Kingdom of Heaven seems just too distant and abstract to hold out for.
* The cutting down and judging of others to make ourselves feel better, smarter, more enlightened, more pious, less dependant (than that guy or girl over there) on God’s mercy.
* Rampant career mapping
* Fantasizing about circumstances, skills, persons, achievements we’re just sure contain within them all our happiness and fulfillment
You know what made that rigorous hike extraordinary? I believe it was the unexpected satisfaction we encountered while concentrating not on the finish line (being embarrassingly inept at map reading, I’d no idea how far away it was) but on each individual hurdle in front of us. We bonded over our shared dependence on one another to make it through to the next moment, the next unforeseen trial. We oohed and awed at the majestic splendor we would have missed had we been fixing all our attention on just making it to the end as quickly as possible. We emerged from that incident a little stronger, a little more confident. Yes, perhaps by attempting to muzzle spontaneity and any unscripted modifications to my plans, I am robbing myself of authentic, unconditional joy - joy independent of my circumstances - joy enriched by fellowship, the intentional seeking out of beauty in everything and everyone, and earning resilience through hard work and perseverance.
This year, I long to let go. I want so badly to release my soul from my own selfish and limiting ideas about what it means to be a “success” in this stage of my existence. “Help us not forget that all things are sent by You” I pray in the mornings. I want to rest in the assurance that only God knows what is best for me. The questions I need to stop agonizing over are:
“When will I write another book?”
“Where will we live next?”
“How will we ever afford… (just fill in the blank)?”
“What if I get sick?”
Instead, may I become ever more fanatical about going out of my way to make as many meaningful connections as I can with my neighbors and family members every single day, about getting back up after tripping, and developing a habit of gratitude. If I just start with love - with loving God and my neighbor - than I bet everything else, all the other details, will fall into place. “Into your hands, O Lord Jesus Christ, I commend my spirit and my body. Bless me, save me, and grant me eternal life.”