I was having trouble getting to a “sabbathy” place on a hike recently. I had taken on some new responsibilities at church that week, my girls were about to come home (one from a vacation in Europe, the other from a year at school), and my mind kept going to those places. Most of all, I was wearing anti-snake shin guards for the first time – I hike alone, it’s snake season here, and my wife worries about me, so I sacrifice fashion for security and a happy spouse. But I was sure that I looked dopey, and it was distracting. Yeah, I’m that vain.
I stopped after a couple of miles to do a little reading, and came across a passage about the value of a quiet heart. Ironically, as I was reading the book, I was being bombarded by those flies that will give their all in order to penetrate your nose and ears – I hate those things. But they made me realize that some obstacles to a quiet heart are external, like the flies, and my new church responsibilities, the return of my daughters, and the dopey-looking shinguards. In order to achieve quietness of heart, I have to find a way to lay aside the external distractions.
As I gained altitude, the flies went away. But I came across a six-foot rattlesnake blocking the trail, and he took objection to my throwing rocks at him (yeah, forget fashion, I was glad to have the shinguards!). He rattled at me as he slithered away, only the second time in my life I’ve heard that unforgettable sound in the wild. For the next 45 minutes or so, every branch and every lizard on the trail was a potential snake. This anxiety became an internal distraction that made my heart a noisy place, re-hearing that rattle over and over. In order to achieve quietness of heart, I have to overcome the internal distractions, too.
An hour later, I found myself in some of the most beautiful oak forest I have ever seen. I was hiking in shade, there was a cool breeze, my IPod was cranking out some of my favorite songs, and the worship moments were rich and inspiring. It became one of my better walks with God. My heart was finally quiet, but I had to overcome distractions to get there.
What’s true on a Sabbath hike is true every day, isn’t it? God said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength” (30:15). Repentance and rest lead to salvation, quietness and trust lead to strength. Wow.
I want the kind of strength that comes from a quiet heart. Because it doesn’t come naturally, I find I need to pursue quietness of heart, not just on Sabbath days, but every day. I won’t always have a shady oak forest to help, but I’m committed to finding other ways to get there.
That Isaiah passage ends ominously, as God condemns Israel with the phrase, “But you were not willing.” What would He say about us? Are we finding our strength in quietness and trust?
Lord, I’m willing. I need You to make me able.