I recently spent a day with God in a quiet place. This year has been difficult and full of changes and I know more are coming but right now I cannot see my way. So I spent time praying in a chapel and walking pretty pathways, and I came upon a labyrinth.
Now, I freely confess, I’ve never gotten the labyrinth thing. On this day I look at it and I think, Really? Come on, I can just step over the little rock walls and walk straight to the center. Seems a little esoteric.
I think I hear God chuckle.
So I proceed to the starting point and take a deep breath. Okay, Lord. This seems silly to me but I’m open to what You might want to teach me through this thing.
I start walking. And immediately I notice something.
At first the labyrinth seems pretty straightforward. (And yes, in my head I hear a little Munchkin voice saying, “Follow the yellow brick road.”) I mean, it’s one path, right? How challenging can it be?
But when I step into it I immediately realize that, while it is organized, it isn’t exactly predictable. Because I’m not starting along the outside of the circle, which seems like the logical way it should go. No, I am immediately surrounded by other sections of the path. I can’t readily see exactly where I am going. The twists and turns of the path surprise me. But I am committed now.
I look down. It is reassuring to see other footprints. Others have come this way before me; others will come after. I may be alone right now, but other friends have walked this same pathway.
I can see other sections of the path as I travel. I don’t know when I will get to these sections, but I know the path is singular, so I will get there. The path has a beginning and it has an end. But the path is not a maze. I don’t have to worry about getting lost, taking a wrong turn or coming face to face with a dead end.
Through much of the journey I can see my goal: the center of the labyrinth. But when the path turns, often I find myself actually walking away from my target. Still, I must trust the path, even when it seems I am walking in the wrong direction. If I turn around I will find myself back where I started.
Sometimes I stop in my journey along the path. I listen to the song of a bird or a rattle of wind through the trees, or to watch a lizard dart under a rock. Sometimes I fix a stone that has fallen out of place, so other travelers will find the path easier. But I never alter the route.
I like it that the pathway is a guide, not surrounded by walls. If someone else were here, I could call out encouragement to her as she navigated the path. I am not separated from fellow travelers. But because the way of the path is not marked with evidence of levels of achievement or “graduations,” once she steps into the labyrinth I cannot tell where she is, exactly. I cannot know how far she has traveled or how far she has yet to go. I cannot know what challenges she has met or which she may still face. I just know that, like me, she is learning as she goes, and we will both arrive at our ultimate destination, although maybe not at the same time.
Each traveler’s journey is the same, yet different.
Getting to the center seems almost anticlimactic. A scattering of rocks, a candle or two, dried flowers, a necklace charm, little items with scriptures engraved. Evidence that other travelers have come and gone. Encouragement. Love. I breathe deep and enjoy the sun on my face, enjoy this moment of completion.
But then my eye catches something almost buried in the dirt—a smooth rock. Here? I kneel to pick it up. It has been tumbled and its sharp edges are worn away. The translucent pink inside is clearly visible.
It is beautiful.
And I know it is for me, this rock. It is my gift from God, today—my reward for trusting the path.
My grandmother used to tumble rocks. They didn’t look like much when she first put them in the tumbler, but once they had gone through the process, they were beautiful. Tumbling rocks to perfection requires three things: time, water…and other rocks.
The rocks stay in the tumbler for many days, going over and over, back and forth. The tumbler is dark and noisy and (I’m quite sure) unpleasant inside. Tiny pieces break off of each rock, and the tiny pieces wash against the bigger pieces and slowly, slowly, the imperfections in each are worn away.
I bend down and pick up another rock. It’s a common desert rock—dirt, rough edges, crystals embedded in the chert. I clutch it in my hand and its sharpness bites into my flesh. It is raw, unrefined. It is potential.
And I see the difference. And I seek the difference.
This is my journey.
It will be unpleasant and dark at times and often I will not understand why I’m forced to endure the pain of rubbing up against these sharp, uncomfortable changes. But I will endure. Because my only other option is to stay the way I am. And frankly, that scares me more.
It is only by cooperating with the One Who wears away my rough edges—one agonizing chip at a time—that I will ever become all He wants me to be…all I want to be.
Because all I want to be…is His.
And this journey, this labyrinth—this is the only way to follow. God’s path. The one He ordained for me before time existed, before He had exhaled stars into the void. He knew I would be standing here today, seeking Him, wondering, wandering, confused. I may not understand every turn, I may not always travel the path perfectly, but if I follow, I’ll get there. He will guide my steps, because He has ordained a purpose in every one.
So I will follow, trusting. One step at a time.
Nichole Nordeman has a beautiful take on this concept in her song, “River God.”