On a family day out in England a few years ago we visited Wakehurst Place, a lovely botanic garden in Sussex. It occurred to me later, as I looked through the photos I had taken and thought about the different paths and scenery, that our walk that day was very much like the walk of life.
Almost as soon as you enter the garden there is a forked path, and you need to decide which way you are going to walk around. We all face the choice of whether to follow Christ or not. There is a choice to be made because the paths diverge. You cannot hop from one to the other once you have made a decision. If you change your mind you have to retrace your steps and go back to where you were.
Once you have committed yourself to a path you can decide that walking is the most important thing to you and just put your head down and get on with it; or you can make the choice to take an interest in the wonderful things all around you. As a family we love to stop and look more closely at all the plants, admiring the varied greens, the different shapes of the leaves, the pattern those leaves make against the sky if you look up through the canopy. We touch the bark of the various trees, notice the insects, sniff the flowers. In short, we enjoy the wonder of creation.
Now let us consider the paths we wandered along. Some of them were wide, straight, tarmac walkways, easy to walk along and providing a good view ahead and sight of the sky above. We were able to walk next to each other easily. Life is like that too, sometimes. We can see where we are going, the way is clear, any obstacles can be easily seen before they are reached. We make good progress and don’t have to pay too much attention to where we are putting our feet.
When we found ourselves walking along a particularly boggy pathway, Woody, who was wearing shoes as against the sandals that Lydia and I had favoured that day, was a lot more confident in striding across the soft ground. Lydia and I were slightly more hesitant, but were able to use the footprints already made to see where it wasn’t too sticky underfoot. In our walk with Christ we should be eager to listen to those who have been through the same things that we are facing. They can offer a lot of insight in how to not become bogged down by worldly things. I include in this biblical figures too.
Some of the pathways involved climbing steps, or ascending quite steep hills. We were left slightly out of breath by the time we reached the top, but often there was a seat awaiting us there. God gives us times of rest before or after a strenuous part of our walk of faith. There are oases of calm when we go through difficult periods. They might be a day out of the usual pattern, or a particular person in whose company you feel more relaxed. Thank God for these times of refreshment.
Others paths were more like rutted tracks, narrow and twisting. There wasn’t a good view ahead because of the turns and the trees meeting overhead and sometimes overhanging the path. The track was uneven, so we spent more time looking at where we were putting our feet so that we didn’t stumble. There are times where our walk with Christ feels very much like this. We are committed to a path, but we can’t quite see where it is leading. We don’t have so much time to stop and look at those things around us because we don’t want to stumble or miss-step. We feel slightly more lonely due to walking in single file. At this point trust in God is what gets us through. We trust that we are on the right path and persevere with it until we can see an end or a fork in the road. It comes eventually.
When the path splits we must make a decision. Sometimes we look at the possible paths - which direction do they go in? Are they ascending or descending? Can we see any obstacles in the way? If we have a particular destination in view we pick the path that will help us to get there. On occasion the paths look too steep or don’t seem to lead anywhere, and then we dismiss them and look at the alternatives.
These things occur on the path of faith too. When we need to change direction or choose between more than one path we pray. Sometimes the answer is clear and obvious. If we have been given a particular task and then find ourselves in a situation where there is a choice to be made, we follow the one that will aid us in reaching the goal we have been set.
There are times when we can see two paths, one a broad tarmac highway, the other a twisted narrow way. Although the wide path may be tempting, if the Lord directs you to take the more difficult way, you can be sure that you will grow more in faith and maturity by being obedient. You never know what delights may be found. It might be hard work, but the rewards will be worth it.
There were quite a few quiet spots at Wakehurst, including a walled garden. We need times of quiet and solitude in our spiritual lives; times where we can commune with God and listen with our hearts. These are times of withdrawing from others and seeking peacefulness in a world that is very noisy with things and people always trying to draw our attention. It is refreshing to sit quietly, knowing there is nothing else you want to be doing right now but spending time with God.
Next time you take a walk, just think about how it reflects where you are now, or where you are heading on your own walk with Christ.