Today’s post in the Advent series Let Us Wait As Children Wait, is written by Jill Aylard Young. Jill serves on the board of Mustard Seeds Associates. She lives with her husband Matthew and daughter Grace in Elysburg, PA where Matthew is pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church. Jill has an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and is particularly interested in spiritual direction and formation.
“In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Prov 16:9
I was eager, even joyful, to share with our four year old daughter Grace the Sierra Nevada mountains. For the first time since our honeymoon, Matthew and I – this time with my dad and Grace – had come to visit one of my favorites places – Mammoth Lakes, CA. On several occasions during my childhood, my family had vacationed there in the summer. In my young adulthood I had visited yearly from the Los Angeles area with friends and even retreated by myself. On every Mammoth visit there had been an anticipation in my heart – a waiting and yearning for God – for a moment of deep connection. It sometimes took a while, but each time my spirit had been refreshed as I hiked into the alpine beauty. I longed for the same this time.
On the second day of our visit, my dad and I took Grace with us on the Barrett/TJ lakes hike – only a mile long, but steeper than I remembered. On this hike my dad and I were given the challenge of waiting. Though both of us were appreciating the beauty along the way, and even the adventure of a bear siting near the beginning of the trail, we were focused on reaching our destination of the two lakes. Grace, however, in her very preschool way, was not at all focused on an end point or goal. She was finding much to love right in front of her – walking across a log over and over again while practicing her balancing skills, watching the creek water flow under the bridge, and building little rock towers each time she plopped down stubbornly on the steep section of the trail. We tried all forms of persuasion to coax her up the trail from enthusiastic exclamations about the lake to “follow the leader” games to promises of being nearly there, even resorting to picking her up and carrying her.
Once we made it to Barrett Lake we decided that this would be the final destination for Grace, even though TJ was the larger and more dramatic of the two lakes. And there at little Barrett lake, Grace slowed us down. Grace and I sat on some rocks by the lake and had a snack, looked around for interesting sticks, and even dipped our feet in the icy glacial lake water like I used to do as a kid. Then at her prompting the three of us walked around the lake to get to a snow patch on the other side. She marched, hopped, and played with delight in the snow. We even found some bear paw prints.
Later my dad mentioned that Barrett lake was one of the highlights of the Mammoth trip for him. Because Grace slowed us down he got to take more time for photography around the lake and appreciate its simple beauty.
Along with the important parental challenges of how to navigate the clashing of my daughter’s will with mine and of being patient and fully present with her, this experience reminded me of lessons I still need to learn about spiritual waiting. As I wait for God, I get focused on destinations – experiences I want to have of the Spirit’s presence, specific changes I want for our lives, evidences I want to see of God’s hand in the world, longings that I want fulfilled, etc. I can get so preoccupied with and even spun up about these things that I miss what is right in front of me.
Perhaps the kind of waiting God calls us to is the kind that involves sitting down right where we are on the trail and enjoying God’s gifts, like a preschooler would. Maybe then we can let go of our restless drivenness for a while and just hang out with Christ, our hiking guide. Then as we trust him to lead us ahead on the trail in his time, especially through the steep patches, we just might find some unexpected delights.
May it be so for us this advent.