Whispers in the Woods
By Constance B. Fink
It looked like an easy trail, the type of trail for a Sunday afternoon in the spring. Calm and beautiful. Tall, leafy trees formed an umbrella of shade. Delicate wildflowers added splashes of color. An orchestra of songbirds harmonized tunes of contentment. Level ground provided a comfortable pace. It was a trail where God and I enjoyed each other’s company. Hope, contentment, and devotion filled my mind.
Then I came upon an unexpected turn. Suddenly, afternoon turned to night. The night turned to days. The days turned to months. And the months turned to years. The end seemed farther away than ever. The path of my life had turned into woods. Deep, thick woods.
Yearning for a child after years of infertility, but an empty cradle seemed our lot. Needing financial relief after months of unemployment, but disappointments continued. Praying fervently for a family member, but years of unanswered pleas prevailed. Unmet expectations. Unrealized hope. Unresolved concerns.
The once peaceful trail became one turn after another of steep inclines, rushing waters, gnarled trees, dark clouds, and loud thunderstorms. There were few refreshing meadows, babbling brooks, beautiful flowers, bright rainbows and quiet caves.
I had no idea I would still be walking the path for so long. I had no idea I would still be unable to see the end. I am tired and discouraged.
Wait, something catches my attention ahead. The path brightens. “Look, Lord, it’s a clearing!” My back straightens and my pace quickens. I walk quickly past the pretty wildflowers. I barely hear the songbirds. My focus is on the wide clearing. There are people! Some are running; some are resting; some are visiting; all are smiling. Approaching the clearing, my loneliness dissipates. My fears are left back among the gnarled trees and dark clouds. Relief and renewal are finally within reach. An answered prayer? “Thank you, Lord. This is a welcome change. Let’s stay awhile.”
The Shepherd slows our pace and says, “Yes, the clearing is appealing, but look to your right. That’s the path I would like to take you on.”
“You must be kidding. Not more of the same! How can that be in my best interest? It’s dark and narrow. The thorny brush can trip me. The inclines are a challenge to my hiking skills. The debris and unevenness will require thought and effort for every step. No one is on that path and it seems no one has been on it for a while. Look how narrow it is—room for only the two of us.”
My Shepherd loves paths like this. I don’t, especially not when I look at the thick woods, the dark clouds, and the sharp rocks.
We stop. The clearing is ahead; the wooded path is to the right. My Shepherd waits for me to choose. Rest or growth—clearing or woods. He sees my struggle. He sees my temptation. And He whispers reassurance for the wooded path: reassurance of security that He will be with me; the promise we will stop as needed; the comfort He will watch my every step; the confidence He will catch me when I trip.
But fear and frustration interrupt. I turn to my Shepherd and say, “Why can’t we go to the clearing? After a rest, I’ll be ready to tackle more difficult paths. Why do You give other people predictable, leisurely paths, yet give me strenuous paths?”
Disappointment joins in and I continue, “Since the first steps on the trail, You have often reminded me You have something great in store for me. Now we are here. I can see something great; I can reach it! Yet now I am faced with a choice—a choice between fulfilled desire or continued disappointment…at least that’s how it seems. I don’t want to go any farther—I just want to sit here alone…” and my voice fades to a whisper, “…but I’m afraid to do that too.”
The Shepherd’s eyes and words reflect His compassion, “Come to Me. I want you to assure you of my love. I want you to feel my strength around you. I want you to know that I am greater than all that concerns you.”
But I do not want to be held; I can hardly look Him in the eye. Taking steps toward Him seems like great effort.
Only one thing will give me rest—the clearing. Yes, that is where I will be assured of His love and power. There I will have relief from the pull of uncertainties, questions, and demands. There I will have resolution and stability to my unsettled circumstances. There will be sure footing instead of a steep incline, calmness instead of rushing water, softness instead of a gnarled tree, brightness instead of a dark cloud, and quietness instead of a thunderstorm.
I cannot take another step away from the clearing. So I stop and sit for a long time on an uncomfortable rock. But I do not feel the pain of the discomfort; instead, I focus on my frustration and fear.
“Why are my desires unfulfilled; why are my prayers unanswered?”
He gently, yet passionately, responds, “Which is more important—who I am or what I give? Which is of more value—the giver or the gift?”
The “I wish I had’s” are loud and rob me of satisfaction. Compassionately, the Shepherd cups my face in His hands and says, “Look at Me. You have a deep longing that is trying to be heard. Unsettledness is the signal you are looking elsewhere for satisfaction.”
“I have waited long for resolution!”
Patiently, the Shepherd says, “Settled circumstances are not harmful except when you trust calm circumstances instead of Me.”
I glance at the wooded path. Just a short distance and it turns into thick brush. The clearing, however, is in full view. I see its entirety—I know exactly what is there.
My Shepherd has not told me much about the wooded path to the right. He has not said, “This is what will be on the path. Here are the things you will learn. This is when and where the path will end. Will you go with Me?”
Instead, He says, “I carved this path through the woods for you. I know what is ahead and I see its end. I promise to be with you on every step, on every turn. Your only concern is to stay close to Me, to hear the guidance of My voice in your ear, to feel the strength of My arms around you, and to follow my confident pace alongside you. Will you go with Me?”
Surprisingly, with those assurances, the uncertainties begin to feel less ominous. My fears begin to diminish. My frustrations begin to subside. I still hear the rushing waters around the bend. I still see a dark cloud over to the right. I hear a clap of thunder closer than is comfortable. The inclines and rocks and gnarled trees look as challenging as ever. But something is different.
I feel certainty. I feel security. I feel stability. Not from a change in path; but from a change in me.
“OK, I will go with You.” My Shepherd wraps His arms tightly around me. I relax in His gentle strength. “You are my Shepherd; I shall not want…No matter how far the wooded path goes, I will be satisfied, not because of where I am, or what I have, but because I know You are close.”
A few days have passed since we started on the path to the right. In the woods ahead, I still hear the piercing screams of fear and anxiety attempting to keep me from approaching. But, with the Shepherd’s presence, they run away back into the dense woods, screaming their own defeat. I still hear the boisterous voices of challenges and demands in their attempts to surround and defeat me. But stronger is the Shepherd’s gentle grasp of my hand; and clearer are His gentle whispers in my ear. And, though on a strenuous path, the response deep within my heart is, “I am at rest.”
Walking each step with the Shepherd and finding a quiet place with Him in the midst of chaos has been more vital than finding a way out of it. For with Him, are found stability, rest, and hope no matter the path.