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A walk in the woods

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

I was glad it was summer.

Summer meant that I could stumble into the woods the late-afternoon haze after work and not worry about the cold or the dark or other things that bring on untimely demises. Summer meant that I didn’t have to carry darkness both inside and outside. Summer meant there was sun, and hours of it.

That afternoon, I left work at 4:59 p.m., unsure of how I should spend my evening. Sitting in my front seat, I took a deep breath and considered my options. I could order Pad Thai and watch sad movie, crying over imaginary people’s problems. I could go to a café and try to write something meaningful about my experience. I could go to the gym and angry-run until the heaviness lifted. Without consciously deciding, I found myself driving to my favorite park.

I started on a trail before realizing that the thing I craved most was solitude, scream-and-no-one-will-hear-you solitude. The kind of aloneness that Dateline makes you swear you’ll never enter. Leaving my phone in the car, I veered off into the bramble alongside the river, trying to quiet my mother’s voice in my head telling me I was asking for trouble. I couldn’t summon the energy to care.

In the thick of late-summer Pennsylvania, we’d experienced unprecedented rains in the weeks preceding. As I sunk into ankle-deep mud, I recalled hearing that this park had flooded just the week before. I paused, looking down at my formerly white-and-teal Nikes in the mud. Thank God, I thought. This ensures I’ll be truly alone.

I hopped from semi-dry spot to semi-dry spot. I swatted thorns and branches from my face and belly-rolled over thick fallen trees. And all the while, I yelled at God, hot tears making their way from cheek to chin to neck.

“I thought this was what You wanted from me!” I tripped over an unseen log.

“I thought You said You’d make a way!” I slapped a branch from my face with unnecessary force.

“I thought we were in this together.” I stopped walking, covering my face with my mulch-tainted hands.

Thunder grumbled overhead, and I remembered hearing a coworker mention that the rains were supposed to come again this evening. The clouds I could see through the brush overhead looked grim. I glumly traipsed in silence back to my car and drove home.

It’s been six months since that day in the woods, and there have been a lot of moments like it in that time—a lot of yelling at God and a lot of long walks in the woods. The situation that drove me there is hardly the point (that’s a story for another time)—I think that many followers of God come to a point where our ideas of Him don’t quite meet our experiences of Him.

Today, it’s winter. It’s been snowing for hours, and it won’t be above freezing for days. I’m counting down the days to a move to a warmer climate (13, to be exact). Today, I don’t have a lot of answers to the questions I’ve been asking for the past six months. I’ve been asking friends and counselors and shrines and books, and none of them seem to hold the answer I'm looking for.

And if I’m honest, I’m not sure that I believe answers are coming. There are somethings we know about God that are intractable, inarguable, not-up-for-debate. But there are so many other things about Him that are quite fuzzy—far more so than I’d like to admit.

But I’m learning to live in the not-knowing, in the hazy, in the mystery. I'm learning (or, rather, trying to learn) how to be okay with all that my mind can grasp—and all that it can't.


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