How Far We Got
An unfamiliar sound caught us off guard. I hoped for a repeat. It did. Looking behind me toward the woods in the back of our house, I was sure it was close. I hadn’t heard many sounds of a wounded animal, but I decided that’s what it was. Beginning our routine early-morning jog onto the trail, we heard it again. This time to our left and above us! Looking over the treetops I spied a V the size of the fighter jets that occasionally test fly at the same height. The solitary honk of the leader was no match to the roar of the A-10 Warthog, but was as amazing. Stunned by the sight and sound of their flight, we both froze and watched the synchronized gliding geese. They flew out of sight. The harsh honk became distant as they headed over the woods edge toward the dam.
“Oh my, Eli, can you believe that?”
As if bothered by the delay, Eli pulled the leash to get me back on task. But of course he could believe it. Such unexpected encounters are regular occurrences living on a mountaintop. We both have developed a sense of caution. And no matter what it is and when it happens, the element of surprise stirs us to a point of alert and wonderment. Although these occasions probably have a deeper meaning to me than to Eli, I sense he enjoys my elation reserved only for such times.
On an early spring morning hike we experienced another one of those times. With a casual glance at the six foot rotted hollow log we passed often, I noticed a subtle movement of a patterned form against the wet black bark. Frightened for our lives, I yanked Eli to me, shortened his leash and whispered, I have a treat for you, sit! With a look of disbelief, and since he didn’t see the coiled shape, he complied and sat close beside my leg. If there was a hint of something not yet identified on our outings, Eli believed he was born to identify it. He could double his weight and convert his eighty-pound chocolate body into a missile targeted at new movement. Shifting my eyes back and forth from the timber rattlesnake and Eli, I said with all the authority I could muster, Eli, we are going to walk backwards slowly up the hill for a little bit and you are going to stay with me. I’m sure he thought this was not one of the commands we practiced during all those months of training. Graceful, we weren’t. But once turned around, he effortlessly followed my flight up the trail to safety and the promised treat.
These spontaneous thrills have increased since I’ve changed my approach to open-air activity. For some time I didn’t step out the door unless equipped with the proper gear. I researched and bought the latest products from insect repellant clothing to top-rated footgear. I could track my time, distance, pace, heart rate, and calories burned. I aimed to walk, jog, hike and cycle my way to the top! Eli wasn’t part of my outdoor interests. He would’ve hindered my progress.
Determined to measure up to somebody else’s success - coworker, friend, or featured athlete - I pressed toward a hollow goal. I compared my ability to others, and got caught up in the label-conscious outdoor world. The essence of my outings turned into thoughts of gauging the fit of my footwear, apparel comfort, and bragging rights of accomplishment and personal product review. A standard of good outdoor experience included making good impressions. And, unfortunately, using this standard led me to categorize others in levels above or below me. Instead of reaching the top, I hit bottom. Adventures turned into performance-based stressfull drills.
When I became a Christian, I followed the same line of thinking, and measured my faith by man’s standard of perfection. I believed I could attain a level of godliness that put an end to my enticement to sin. And, like the pursuit to establish myself as an outdoor enthusiast, I sought after resources to meet a fabricated goal. I purchased books, attended conferences, and listened to numerous speakers. I also judged other believers when they fell short of excellence. Wearied by failure to overcome all temptation, I questioned my salvation and God’s grace to transform me. Instead of reaching perfection, I fell into despair.
Deflation has a way of pushing me in other directions. Anchored in the Rock, God consistently reveals the truth, and leads me in the way I should go. He freed me to enjoy His creation and my salvation. Studying Scripture causes me to put my eyes on Him and conform to His standard of living. When I judge myself by any other standard than what God says in His Word, I judge others. But when I look to Christ as the standard bearer, I confess my pride and ask for forgiveness. Only then do I have a forgiving nonjudgmental spirit toward others. I’ve learned my efforts to secure serenity as His child, and in the outdoor world, relate to pleasing Him. And the result is a simplified system of preparation that can lead to times of refreshment and spontaneity.
This morning my neighbor passed Eli and I as we began our jog. A little while later he passed us again. Leaning out of his side-by-side, he laughed and said, “Is this all the farther you got?”
With a smile of contentment I said, “Yep, we’re going slow today.”