Breadcrumbs

trail-of-breadcrumbs1Once upon a time, there was a little girl who, like Hansel and Gretel (and, as Stephen Sondheim pointed out, really all of the famous fairy tale characters), was lost in a wood. It was a dark, dank and bleak place and she longed to find her way home. Had things gone the way she had planned, she would already have been home but instead, she found herself sitting on the damp ground trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

It was her own fault, really.

Sure, she had started out on this little excursion with her eyes and heart fully open and aware of potential risks, but she was excited for the new possibilities that awaited her. Being a girl who had read a seen a lot and knew that things didn’t always work out, she also took necessary precautions should things go awry. This was, after all, a new path – a new direction – so it was possible she could get lost along the way so she filled her pockets with bits of bread to drop along the path believing these would lead her back to where she started.

In hindsight, the outcome was pretty predictable. I mean, it was bread crumbs, for goodness sake! What was she thinking?

As you would expect, what didn’t get carried away in the wind was quickly gobbled up by birds and squirrels or maybe hidden away in nearby trees for later consumption and by the time she realized this was the case, she was completely unable to even begin determining which direction would take her back to where she started. The starting point, though not necessarily perfect, was at least familiar and would put her in a place to feel re-grounded and able to make a new plan.

What the little girl didn’t realize is that even if her breadcrumbs had remained and she couldn’t have followed the same path back the way she had originally come because the home she had left would not have been the same. Nothing is once we leave and come back.

I know that by now you have all figured out this little story is about me. I am the little girl lost in the woods and what has put me here is my oh-so-wise decision recently to dive head first back into the dating world right after making the major life change of moving into a new house with 4 other people.

I know. Probably not my wisest decision and I know you will be shocked to hear the relationship didn’t pan out.

Perhaps it was a timing thing. We probably couldn’t have started the relationship at a worse time for his business and I certainly was going through changes in my life, but regardless of the reasons, the chapter closed all too soon and here I was, left in the middle of the wood.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things with the relationship turned out the way they did because I had left the breadcrumbs to find my way. Would the outcome have been different if I hadn’t tried to give myself an “escape”?

While it is in my nature to try to assume responsibility for just about anything that goes wrong, I would have to say that in this case, regardless of my attempt to make the relationship failure all about things I did or didn’t do, I realized that the breadcrumbs were far from the end of the relationship. They were, in fact, a gift much like the seeds that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13.

Now I realize those of you theologians out there are balking, screaming at the screen that the purpose of that message wasn’t about my personal love life but about the planting of seeds of faith and the subsequent harvest of believers. I get that. I really do. But as I listened to a sermon on this passage recently I felt God telling me there was an additional meaning much closer to my heart and circumstance.

As I listened, God spoke to my heart telling me that those breadcrumbs I left for myself were never to have been used to find my way back to where I had been because I was no longer the same person I had been when I started the journey even though the journey itself was relatively short.

The crumbs, you see, were really just little pieces of myself – good and bad – that were left on the trail. They were memories, feelings and expressions that I was able to unbury from my heart and leave behind, no longer needed for my journey.

Of course, I didn’t get this for a while. I can be stubborn and obstinate (no comments from the peanut gallery on that, please). For days – even weeks – I found myself trying to find those pieces and seeking desperately for ways to gather every little crumb back up and allow it be part of me gain. Even as I type this, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but how many times have we tried to keep everything just as it is because even though we know it’s not healthy, at least it’s comfortable?

But God didn’t allow that for me this time. I had grown and shed those things and God was going to ensure that those things were carried away further away from the deeper into the wood I went. That journey into the woods was a call from God to follow Him and grow and, as we all know, growth comes at a cost. We do not find new mountaintops of faith nor new joys in life without some pain.

And this process was indeed painful, but as painful as it was, God knew I was ready. The crumbs I had left behind were no longer useful to protect me or define me and with God’s grace, they may perhaps land in new, more fertile ground where they could one day become part of a testimony or ministry that is associated with me but not part of me.

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Finding Thin Places

istock_000013602538mediumKierkegaard once stated that life is best understood backward but must be experienced forward. I think this may be particularly true about travel. While I am not “globe trotter” by any definition, I can say that as I look back on the places I have been blessed enough to visit, it is clear to me that those places that left an indelible mark on my heart – those places I long to return to and hold a special place in my memory – are places where I felt inspired and at peace; where I felt as though the hold this planet had on me was not as strong as the connection I had to the home waiting for me in eternity. Such places, it turns out, have been identified for years and are known by the Celtics as “thin places”: places where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.

Finding ourselves in these thin places does not necessarily lead to life-changing spiritual breakthroughs, whatever that may look like, but they can disorient us; confuse us. We can find ourselves jolted out of old ways of seeing the world and more readily accept the world as God sees it.

I believe many of us seek these “thin place” experiences over and over once we have experienced them and are often disappointed when we can’t find them again. We go back to the same place at the same time of year and day but somehow, it’s just not the same. The connection to something beyond us has disappeared and we can easily become disappointed with God as a result.

Thinking about these times of wonder and disappointments, I find myself wondering what is it that truly creates those amazing moments? Is it truly the place? Is it a rip in the fabric of time that is only visible at exactly the right time in the right place?

To me, I think that these moments occur not because of the physical location or time, but because of the condition of our heart at that moment; that we find these thin places in times when we are thoroughly focused on God and His will for us instead of being distracted by our personal wants and needs. I would go so far as to say that the “thin places” are times when we land on that narrow road that Christians and others of faith are called to walk upon.

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That road is, as you have probably come to know, very difficult to find let alone stay on.

I personally imagine this road to be almost as narrow as a tightrope; a place we need to truly focus in order to stay balanced upon it and a place where, more often than not, we simply stumble upon rather than encounter purposefully. The forces of materialism and selfishness pull us from side to side and we tilt, stumble and often fall. But occasionally all the pieces fit together and we find ourselves centered, focused on God and His path for us.

We’re able to do this when we love as He does; love one another without boundaries, accepting all of the people God places in our lives for the individuals He created them to be regardless of their thoughts, beliefs, words or actions; when we love them despite how challenging they may be from our human, selfish and judgmental perspective.  When we have those moments of truly loving those around us, the desire to get stuff or reach for the next rung on the ladder falls away and the distance between heaven and earth narrows.

Finding ourselves in those thin places is a gift to us from God; an intimate reminder that there is a purpose to our time here and a connection with Him that is both eternal and can be glimpsed here on earth. But as I mentioned previously, the harder we try to find these thin places, the more elusive they will likely become because our focus becomes skewed because we are no longer simply focused on God and finding ourselves in this special place, but focused on the experience. The thin place becomes more of a consumer event – a “what can I get out of it” time – rather than what it was originally – a “God thing.”

The thing we each need to remember – or at least I need to remember – is that in order to narrow the gap between heaven and earth, we have to focus purely on God and His will for each moment of our lives.

This is, to say the least, challenging.heels1-418284

We are fed a non-stop barrage of the things we “need” to be truly happy. It seems that no matter where you look, we are told our lives are empty, unfulfilling and a disappointment to us and those around us. We get caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of having to make more money to buy the right stuff to fit in with the right people and live in the right place. It’s not just exhausting, but it is truly a never-ending process. The reality is there will always be someone else who makes more or has something that looks really cool or that lives in a house that is what we consider to be the epitome of success and continuing to focus on the things we don’t have not only takes our eyes away from God, it furthers the frustration, bitterness and anger that is so pervasive in our world today.

As people of faith, we need to remember to change our focus from the material to the ethereal. When we do this, we may indeed find ourselves in one of those special “thin places” more frequently, but even if we only find these places once or twice in our lifetime, working to separate ourselves from the worldly negativity and focus on reflecting God’s perfect love to those around us will keep the memory of these times alive and help us find balance in the more difficult moments in life.

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