A day off from work, time in my pocket and Starbucks coffee in my cup holder, I was off for my favorite spot in the park. Crowded with fishermen most of the summer, I wondered what this day would hold in terms of congestion at the lake's edge. Praying under my breath that I'd have the place to myself, I then held the same as I rounded the last curve and came upon the parking area.
“Not too bad, “ I muttered to myself. It was about half full, and a quick glance to my left revealed a lone picnic table unoccupied, although there were a fair number of people casting lines farther down the spit. I gathered up my belongings and hurried to lay claim to it. As I drew near, however, I understood why other people had given it a wide berth.
Placed close to the water's edge for the convenience of the many anglers that frequent the place, the water that lapped the shoreline a foot or so away from it's nearest side was not a pretty sight. With too little rain in recent weeks to break it up and distribute it more evenly, the remnants of summer fun at the state park now collected and washed up on the dirt at my feet. Brown globs of oil from boat motors trapped all manner of muck and mire, a collection that likely smelled as bad as it looked.
Glad for once that my sense of smell was inactive, I looked desperately down the shoreline for another place to sit. Boxes of tackle, discarded sweatshirts and now-empty bags of fast food meals covered the other tables already claimed by sportsmen busy about their work. A huge rock bearing a memorial plaque had been my seat on previous occasions, but it's rounded top left no spot to set my books, my phone, and the all-important cup of coffee. Today I needed room to spread out. With a sigh I laid my burden down on the wooden planks farthest away from the mess and sat down.
I felt the tension of the preceding days gradually lift off of me as I settled into my spot, a reminder of why I'm repeatedly drawn to that location. The peace and quiet and natural beauty of the place is a balm to my soul and salve for my stressed out nerves. I lifted my coffee cup to my lips and looked out across the lake at the vista spread out before me, noting the swimming area to my left, the wooded hills rounding down to the water's edge on the opposite side, even a glimpse of the lodge way off to my right. Boats slipped soundlessly by as an occasional heron or gull winged its hello in passing. If I kept my eyes on the beauty of the distant shorelines, the mess immediately in front of me bothered me less. With a start I realized that that was what I was there to see that morning; therein lay God's message to me that day.
Many of us are likewise drawn repeatedly to a place, perhaps a church, a relationship, a home situation, or even a calling that our hearts can't escape from. Immediate circumstances may make the current situation seem unbearable, as day after day and in wave after wave the garbage of other people's actions wash up to where we're sitting. Desperately we look about us for another place to go – a new church to attend, a new love to find, another living situation to move into, another avenue of ministry – only to find that there's no place to go; we seem to be constantly crowded out by other people and their problems. Yet the truth is that we enter any new situation the same way we left the old, carrying our baggage around with us, desperately looking for a place to set it down and spread our wings. All of us are looking for perfection and are surprised at times to find that the spot God has for us is far less than that.
Perhaps the solution, then, is simply to lift our eyes...to overlook the negative that surrounds us and soak in the hope and peace and beauty that lies beyond it. Maybe the answer is to keep our eyes on the distant shoreline and let God work His will in us..to change me, to soften your heart, to eliminate some of that which we've been carrying around with us...to lighten our load.
I did that that day. When my coffee was gone, I set down the empty cup and opened the books I'd brought with me. I turned my journal to a new page and lifted the pen to my hand. I read and I studied and I listened...I even laughed a time or two. I talked to God and He talked to me. When we were through I stood up and looked about me in sudden amazement – my car now sat alone in the parking lot, and the once-crowded shoreline now was as empty as could be! I had been so focused on the pages before me and the Voice that spoke to my heart that I no longer noticed the dirty shoreline nearby, nor the movement of the people originally crowding me, as one by one they packed up and left!
I learned some things that day that had little to do with what I read in my books or wrote in my notebook. If I buckle down and do the work that God's planned for me, in whatever situation it is that He has planted me, I'll be surprised to later look around and realize that the conditions which distressed me so originally didn't actually bother me after all, or now no longer disturb me. I have changed, and that was His plan all along.
The perfection I long to find in my life situations, God is more interested in developing in me.
“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 MKJV)