After a morning of diligent work on niggling details, I drove over to one of the foothills near our house, a craggy king of a mountain named Mt. Herman. He has a fire-scarred face, knit back again with greening scrub oak and neatly planted rows of swaying blue spruce. Red dirt paths criss and cross deep into his secret nooks and untouched forests and I go there for a taste of blue and green and red rock song every now and again. The wind was up as I walked into the valley. In its dance with the fresh sun, it was like a laughing child on a playground; noisy, fast, tumbling up and down the sky in easy play. I reached a flat stretch of road running smooth between great halls of fir and noticed on the fingers of one tree, a tiny constellation of lime green dots- small stars of new pine needle growth. I stopped. Looked.
And felt a sudden inner stumble as the ever-present train of musts and oughts and deadlines that dog me came to an ungainly crash at my back. Their irritated impatience to move on was an almost physical push at my feet. Who was I to be stopping smack in the middle of the day? There was exercise to be gotten, money to be made, writing deadlines to meet, and it all crowded around me with a hot-breathed insistence that felt very much like guilt. But there was one place in me, one quiet, untouchable spot at my center that I had found in the earliest minutes of the morning, and out of that place came an alternate voice. I barely know how to describe it, but I had this sudden conviction, sure as the midday sun burning my face, that there was, for me at that moment, nothing in the world so urgently important as looking at that tree, and loving the fact of its existence.
It was one of those moments that strikes like lightning, and in its brisk, bold brilliance, I was sure that nothing in the entire world was actually necessary except loving God and loving people. That the incessant, adrenaline fed drive I feel to produce, to prove, to be successful in work or education or even ministry, becomes the oblivious bustle of a self-important child when I allow it to be the force that guides my days. The world, as in human activity apart from God, continuously sweeps me into its self-absorped pageant of frantic work, pushing me to prove my worth and ability to whoever it is that is watching me. I get so terrified of failing. So terrified that I drop quiet, contemplation, peace, all in a desperate gamble to win at this game of productive adulthood.
But what about the call to childhood? Those impossibly haunting words “do not worry about your life,” spoken by a man who told me I was a child of God. I wonder if my dependence on self, my assumption that it’s my work alone that will save me in the here and now is a sort of slap in this Father’s face. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. And it’s not that I think I’m supposed to bum around without work or purpose. It’s just that the work isn’t the point. The Father, in his beauty, his strength, is the point. Work is in its right place when it makes him clear. Work that can justly be called good has its being rooted in him, not myself. It doesn’t run away from him or obscure his reality. Real work is quiet and strong and as vocal a witness to its Creator as that tree in fragile new life.