It was a Sabbath Hike Fail, pretty much from beginning to end.
I headed out after church last Sunday to break in a new trail in Malibu. I was eager to get there, because after 2½ years of hiking, I’m running out of new trails. All the signs pointed to a great afternoon worship walk, maybe one that would last into the early evening if I had the energy.
It was not to be.
Fail #1: I hit beach traffic along the way. It may be possible to turn 20 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic into a refreshingly contemplative experience, but I guess I’m not that spiritual. I hate traffic, and it made me grumpy.
Fail #2: The trail was popular, which on a June Sunday afternoon translates into “crowded.” My favorite hikes include a significant element of solitude – in this case, I was passing people about every two minutes. I like people, but still …
Fail #3: It was hot, and I wore jeans. Enough said.
Fail #4: The trail was steep. Really steep. It was the most physically challenging trail since my cancer surgery, and I’m still not back to full strength. I’ve learned that greater exertion usually leads to less contemplation. As I worked to put one foot in front of (and higher than) the other, I found it hard to get to a “Sabbathy” place.
Fail #5: I didn’t reach my destination, turning around after less than 3 miles. I’m vain enough to have that bother me.
Fail #6: In an attempt to salvage SOMETHING good out of the day, I stopped for dinner on the way home and brought a book into the restaurant with me. It was an expensive, tasteless meal, and I never opened the book.
So yeah, as Sabbath hikes go, this one was lousy.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn anything. It dawned on me back at the house that God still loved me that night just as much as He had loved me that morning. My failed Sabbath hike had done nothing to change His love, His goodness, or His faithfulness.
He wasn’t keeping score, and I don’t hike to impress Him. I hike to spend time with Him.
Spiritual disciplines bring great benefits, but they can also be dangerous. If we’re not careful, they become legalistic attempts to win something from God – forgiveness, favor, answered prayer, a smile. We fall into the trap of thinking that God accepts us more readily when we are disciplined, and rejects us when we aren’t.
How arrogant to think that our puny efforts can add anything to the work of Christ on the cross. How sad to think that God sees us the way we see ourselves. How refreshing to be reminded that He loves me because it pleases Him to love me. Period.
How encouraging to know that He can even use a failed Sabbath hike to teach me something about Him.
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