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Walking through Life
Working as a home-based writer, occasionally I feel the need just to rub shoulders with other people, or at least to sit listening into their conversations in a local coffee shop, so I sometimes take a walk into the nearby small town to do a little business and to get out into the fresh air and see some other human beings.
There's a short cut which I use regularly when I'm catching the train into London from the local station, and it's a pleasant route which is a great alternative to the main road. I love to walk - I find my brain relaxes as I step out, I somehow can often work out writing issues which may be troubling me and on a day when I am not rushing to catch a train and with a summer breeze and a little sunshine, it's sheer bliss.
The path is a fairly narrow one which runs parallel to the railway line and the backs of some very large houses. It's a path I've taken hundreds of times and there's always something different to experience.
I know there's a fox family living in the undergrowth on the railway embankment which slopes away from the path to the railway track below, because I've seen them some misty mornings. There’s a pair of friendly robins who have nested in the undergrowth and who I spotted from time to time last spring. In the early evenings I can often hear the sounds of children playing in the gardens, and occasionally there are wafts of barbecued sausages and steaks on the summer air. All this hidden behind the very tall hedges which mark the boundary of domesticity and public pathway.
Sometimes, as I walk, I take the opportunity to talk to God. I could call it praying, but it's more like a chat, which is often just one way on my part. However, when I still my heart and take time to stop all my demands and complaining about my life and praying for miracles, God often graciously comes in the quiet to me. Special Moments!
As I walked the familiar path, I found myself brushing away overhanging branches, the overgrown and unruly hedges, weeds and more. My first reaction was "Someone needs to cut back this jungle!" This, after all, is a public thoroughfare and although it's still accessible there's a good deal of gardening and clearing up to be done before it reverts completely to nature.
Then the significance of the path struck me. It was one of my Special Moments.
First, the hedges which back onto the path from the houses out of sight.
I'm absolutely certain that if I was to wander around to the fronts of these homes I would discover gardens facing the road which are perfectly manicured and cared for, with weedless and colour-coordinated borders. Even the gardens on the other side of the tall hedges, I would guess, are looked after either by the residents or their gardeners! Yet here, at the back of the backside of their hedges, it's all overgrown and untidy. Out of sight of neighbours, friends, family members and the majority of the local population.
Second, although the weeds on the pathway, and particularly on the railway embankment are plentiful and thriving, hidden among them I could still see beautiful plants and wild flowers that appear to be surviving, against the odds. Some cling to a tree, other just persist in popping through a mass of thistle or stinging nettles. Resilient, as if saying to the world "Kill me if you can! Go on - I DARE you!"
Thirdly, although the path is overgrown, it is still straight. It may be narrow, but I know it takes me directly into town, and even if I have to battle my way through the undergrowth I know if I stick to that path, I will reach my destination. And, eventually, someone from the local government department responsible for the railway embankment will realise it's time to do a spot of trimming back and the path will be cleared for the summer. It won't always be untidy and full of thorns, thistles, nettles and weeds!
In a God moment (or ten) as I walked the path, I realised the significance of these images to my life, and particularly my spiritual walk.
First, although on the surface - in the front-facing garden of my life, if you like - all may appear good and near perfect while at the back, out of sight, there may be ugly overgrown nastiness which I'm not willing or even able to clear up on my own. Eventually, not given the appropriate attention, the overhanging branches and weeds at the back are bound to encroach onto the life which people see. I need to identify and sort out any rubbish hidden from everyone but God.
Second, even though my walk through life seems, at times, to be filled with obstacles, there is still beauty among the thorns and thistles. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the difficulties which I seem often to experience, there are blessings which God gives me. Some may be nestling quietly, waiting to be revealed in the future, when all the weeds have died back or when they have been dealt with by the Eternal Gardener. It's important for me to recognise the way in which God is answering prayers, sometimes seemingly against the odds. I need to be thankful, every day, for what I have rather than what I have NOT, to thank God for the wild flowers amid the weeds.
Finally, although my journey might be rough at times, I reminded myself that I'm on a straight path. The way may be narrow and sometimes overgrown - with weeds of my own making and those beyond my control - but if I stick to the path and walk that way with God, listening to him as well as talking to him on a regular basis, I know it will bring me safely to my destination.
A long long time ago, in the days when it was all the rage to collect signatures, rhymes and thoughts in an Autograph Book, my mum wrote down a special verse from the Bible which had been given to her when she entered training to be a Christian minister. It’s from The Old Testament, Proverbs Chapter 3 and verse 6.
I love those words - ‘In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight’ (NIV translation) and they came back to me as I walked that straight, if rather overgrown path to town.
I came home and looked up the Message Translation version of that bit from the Bible ... and I leave it with you, hoping it inspires you as much as it does me.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
(Proverbs Ch 3 v 5&6 – The Message translation)