Just a few days ago, I gathered with a small group of college students beneath a gray autumn sky on a cold Saturday morning to talk about, wrestle with, and to experience breakthrough about our ideas related to light, darkness, wholeness, and freedom. Together, we sang songs about our hearts’ cry for renewal and cried while sitting in a circle as we learned of each others’ difficult stories of brokenness and long journeys away from and then back towards God.
In the afternoon, just after lunch, I led the group to the edge of a tree-lined path as we laughed and joked about the day. I waited for the conversation to die down and in the quiet, I selected a student leader from the group and then asked the others to tie tight blindfolds around their eyes. You can imagine the look of surprise of the faces of the students as they obeyed silently, the questions surfacing only as expressions on their mouths.
“Whaaattttttt?” one of the girls finally shouted, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Still, I said nothing and explained only that we were going to do an experiment.
The student leader whom I had selected would remain un-blindfolded and serve as a guide to the group. Together, we would join hands and communicate only via the sound of hand claps and the rise and fall of arms to signal a direction shift, a stop, or a start, etc. I demonstrated quickly, the group joined by holding hands, and we began our walks through the woods.
Following behind the students, my role was to protect the hikers from harm and to silently help the student leader if need be. I walked slowly and watched with wide eyes as the journey began.
At first, the students steps were slow and harsh…many of them stepped forward with big, sloppy, heavy stomps while others walked with tiny steps like tip-toes through a quiet, creaking house. A few of them advanced in a hunched over position, evidently worried about bumping their head into a branch or twig of leaves. Together, they walked like a group of toddlers just learning to take a step. The process was slow and sometimes difficult, but they never let go of each other.
The student leader served as both a guide and a protector. I watched as he looked forward to the path and then back at the group and again, forward to the path and then back at the group. He held onto the hand of the blindfolded student in the front, letting go only to snap a large twig in half or to hold back a thing of thorns as the others marched on. His eyes watched over the path ahead and the path behind, over the student right next to him as well as the group that followed. I could see from his heavy breathing and heightened response to the tiniest sound or movement from the group, that he was deeply concerned with their well-being and deeply committed to making sure they went the right way.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about the Lord as my guide and protector, guiding me always and watching over me. My heart quickened inside my chest as I remembered the journey I’ve been through over the last year, the darkness that surrounded me and my overwhelming thoughts of doubt and confusion. I remember feeling so alone, asking God to show up, literally kicking and screaming for Him to hurry up and help me only to be met with a silence that seemed deafening. I felt so utterly abandoned by His unresponsiveness and often laid alone in my bed at night, sobbing and screaming in my soul, the way a child cries out loud in terror for their Dad. I began to believe that He would never rescue me, that I was destined to live alone in the darkness of my scary cave forever.
I was thinking through all of this as I was watching the students and began to understand more about God’s marvelous ways. As the group moved deeper into the woods, the path became more dangerous and both I and the student leader worked endlessly to keep the group on the designated path. Still, there were limbs to walk under, piles of rocks to mount, and heaps of wet leaves to avoid so the job was not an easy one. I moved quickly, helping the student leader hold back heavy branches and running around the students as I picked up handfuls of sticks and tossed them out of the way. At one point, I saw two students at the tail end of the line make their way towards a pile of prickly bushes. So, I ran in front of them, steeping right into the thorns, rubbing my arm against raw bark on my way so that when the students continued in the path, they ran into me and not the thorns.
Though I remained silent throughout the exercise, I wanted to laugh and cry and sing for joy at the thought of my Lord walking alongside me in my blind understanding of life, guiding me all the way, even through the darkness and protecting me from prickly bushes of destruction.
For those blindfolded during the exercise, the walk was full of silence and confusion and questions of the leader’s trustworthiness. I heard heavy sighs as we walked in the quiet and saw bodies tense at the fear of the path ahead. As they walked, they had no idea of the work we were doing around them, the things we were pulling out of the way, and the moments we clapped once, signifying a “stop” intended simply to let them breathe and rest.
Similarly, as we journey in this life, there are undoubtedly moments and seasons in our story that either past or present, seem like times of bitter silence, burdening questioning, and scary doubt. We wonder where God is in all of this or how much longer we’ll have to walk this certain road or why He doesn’t just reach down and make it all better.
In the Bible book of Job, a man’s faith is tested as he endures battle after hardship after struggle and grief. It seems all odds are against him and as you can imagine, he cries out for God to help but the struggle continues. The man, Job, writes of his long and tiring search for God and unsuccessful pursuit for answers saying:
“God has no right to treat me like this, it isn’t fair.
If only I knew where to find him [God], I’d go straight to him.
I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out exactly what he is thinking,
discover what’s going on in his head.
Would he vigorously oppose me? Or bully me?
No, he wold not press charges against me.
He would take me seriously.
He would deliver me.
But, no, when I go looking to the east, he is not there.
If I go to the west, I do not find him.
If he is working in the north, I do not see him
or if he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”
Still, in verse 10, immediately following the description of his desperation, he writes the following words of simple surrender and deep trust:
“But he knows where I am going…I’ve followed him closely,
my feet in his footprints, not once swerving from his way…
He’ll complete in detail what he’s decided about me
and whatever else he determines to do.
Right now, I’m completely in the dark.
I can’t see the hand in front of my face.”
(Job chapter 23)
For me, the Saturday afternoon walk in the woods was a clear and tangible reminder of this confidence that Job writes of. It served as a real, physical reminder that God is with me always, God is closest at the moments I feel afraid, and God is leading the way.
Though I admit that I still sometimes ask, “God, what the heck are you doing?” or “God, what’s next?” or even, “How much longer, Lord?!” I trust that HE KNOWS WHERE I AM GOING and He will complete in detail everything that He’s decided for me according to His mighty and perfect plan for my life.
Just as I saw demonstrated in the student leader guiding the group along the path, I believe that God is so concerned about every step we take and is deeply committed to making sure we stay on the path He has chosen. “I know the plans I have for you,” He says and He promises to see it to completion. (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 138:8, Phillipians 1:6) Though the road may be difficult or long, the path made of rocks and wet leaves, the promise remains: He will grab hold of us by the right hand and guide us where we need to go. Therefore, we shall not be afraid.
His LIGHT will guide us where we need to be.
We simply must take His hand and go.
only with trust.
And one day, we will sit together at Jesus’ side and learn of the amazing ways in which He was already rescuing us, even as we walked through the darkest seasons and hid out in deep, cold caves. We will see the ways in which we were held in His hand and sheltered from destruction, even as we suffered pain. God is a good, good Papa and He knows the way home. In His infinite tenderness, God is orchestrating a symphony of our stories and struggle so that we can rejoice in the light of His redemption.
Lord, help me to follow you wholeheartedly, with glad anticipation at what’s to come. Though I don’t know what lies ahead, I know that you know where I am going. Let that be enough for me. I trust that you are a good God who has blessings prepared for those who will follow you. Help me to continue to walk by faith, not by sight, for I know that herein, freedom lives and allows me to experience the joyous reality of your Presence. I love you, Lord. Amen.