I’m a lover of nature, trees in particular. I decided in high school that trees are my favorite nature element and I stand by it. I was sitting on my balcony this afternoon watching one sway in the wind and it was incredible. The whole thing moved as one big organism, and yet every little part also moved in its own way as the wind brushed by.
Five minutes from my front door is the Monticello Trail. It’s roughly two miles to the top of this little mountain and I am aching for fall so that I can get back out in the crisp air and hike it a few times a week like I did last year. There is one main paved trail broken up by wooden bridges, and there are tons of little dirt paths and scrambles that shoot off the main winding ascent. So far I’ve mostly stuck to the main paved road.
The trail is smooth and predictable, I’ve climbed it dozens of times at this point, and yet, I often realize my neck is aching because I have my eyes on my feet. I have to remind myself to look up. To notice the trees that I love. To watch the squirrels scurry in the underbrush. To appreciate the little streams that break in and trickle through the rocks. It’s when I take my eyes off the road that I am often drawn into prayer and thankfulness for the moment. I’m able to better practice presence, rather than racing myself to the top of my little mountain.
And I do like to race. Not the running kind—though I wish I did, maybe one day—but the kind of racing that keeps my nose to the ground grinding out tasks and accomplishing things.
I’ve been stressed lately. I’ve been sick and taking Nyquil and yet I cannot fall asleep at night. My mind cranks and churns on and on as I plan out my tomorrows and try to figure out how to make more than 24 hours’ worth of work fit into each day.
When I get like this, it is a signal to me that I actually need to do the illogical and slow down. I need to take my eyes off the road and notice the breeze and the trees and the squirrels and the streams. I need to be present and acknowledge the places where God is present amidst my hustle. It’s only then that my work falls into a rhythm and becomes purposeful and not so frantic.
This past Sunday Nick preached from Mark 8. It was the lectionary text and is the passage where Peter proclaims Jesus is the Messiah and then, in his next breath, rebukes Jesus for not being the type of Messiah he wants and expects. This is discipleship. Grasping glimpses of truth about Jesus and his way only to stumble the next moment and settle back into habits and practiced ways of traveling through the world.
I bring up Nick’s particular sermon because he incorporated a quote I really like from a theologian I really like: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The quote comes from his work, The Cost of Discipleship, it goes like this:
“To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: ‘He leads the way, keep close to him.'”
If we fixate on the road in our discipleship, we might make it to the top but we will miss out on so much of this journey with Jesus. The road is too hard if it’s all we can see. Our necks begin to ache from training our eyes on the spot just in front of our feet.
Instead, we are invited to travel with Jesus and enjoy the places he leads us.
In seminary, my best friend and I went on a lot of walks (not hikes); many evenings after dinner we would explore our neighborhood and talk. I was always surprised at how much ground we covered. Not just physically, but also in our conversations. The time passed quickly and many of those talks have deeply shaped who I am today.
In my discipleship, this week in particular, I’m wondering…what might it look like to walk with Jesus like I walked with my friend after dinner?
What might I learn about my companion Jesus, my neighborhood, my little mountain, and even myself if I slowed my pace, let Jesus lead the way, and took the chance to look around at the world God created and loves?
Discipleship is a practice and I have to remind myself that I cannot be perfect, and Jesus doesn’t expect me to be. Practicing is hard for me, though, I want to just be perfect. Thankfully, though, I don’t have to be. I can just be. I can rest in the friendship I find with Jesus along his way.