On Saturday mornings I treat myself to a long leisurely walk with my dog Bella, through the forest. There is no pretense of burning excessive calories. These walks are pure pleasure and contented wandering of mind and body. I give Bella as much girth as her retractable leash will allow letting her wander aimlessly at her own pace, exploring and stopping when she needs to. The walk is as much for Bella’s enjoyment as mine.
This past weekend, we ambled through a forest carpeted with dry leaves that crunched underfoot, and miles of naked trees openly waiting for spring. I watched Bella sniff her way around big fallen branches. Every now and then she would stop, look back at me to make sure I was still at the end of the leash and then continue her investigations of forest life. Sometimes she waits for me to catch up and then runs ahead again. Whenever Bella stops to look back at me I can’t help but smile and feel an immediate deep tug at my heart for her. She wants her freedom to roam and explore but also wants to know that I’m right behind her.
I started musing about how my relationship with Bella mirrors my relationship with God. If I feel such deep love towards my dog and so contented to simply share a morning walk with her, I wondered if God ever has a sense of deep pleasure simply walking alongside me in my own life journey. When I’m not pleading for something, or seeking forgiveness, or doing anything that consciously engages my inner spiritual life does God simply delight in my presence the way I delight in Bella’s? It is refreshing to imagine God contentedly walking with me without any hint of disapproval or judgment or disciplined suggestions of being “better.” Doesn’t God’s love encourage my explorations of life and what this journey might hold in store?
Bella always feels safe and free to roam as far as her long leash allows. Sometimes, she wants to go beyond the length of the leash, testing my boundaries against her desires. But most of the time she is happy to just trot along ahead of me, her leash seeming more of a comfortable given than a limitation because she trusts me. I love watching her sense of curiosity about everything. As many times as she’s been on this trail she explores each time as though she’s bound to find something newly engaging. On the rare occasion that I call out her name sharply and suddenly she stops and comes running back to me, avoiding the snake camouflaged on the path or another point of danger.
My musings led me to think about living in the shadow of God’s love and abiding presence. There is a beautiful freedom in being bound to a God who sets loving parameters around the invitation to explore the rich and deep bounty of life. Too often we mistake God’s boundaries of discipline and instruction for joyless, authoritarian limitations on life’s journey. But God’s boundaries steep us in the gift-filled realization that we belong to God and are free in Christ, free also to wonder curiously about this blessed life. And often, being curious and full of wonder involves risk and vulnerability, openness to life’s surprises, and endless opportunities to encounter growth, and to deepen in wisdom and love. We can always stop, look back and be reassured of God’s loving presence. As the psalmist says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
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