~by Christine Gough
With barely a square inch to breathe or move, we pulled out of our driveway for a week of camping on the Oregon Coast. Ever the planner, I had lists in hand. Lists for packing. Lists of “must see and do” activities and eateries. Lists of campsite details and driving directions. Lists of menus. The kids were buckled into the car almost a half an hour before we actually departed, ready to go. Or maybe just ready to view the long-awaited “movie in the car,” Star Wars? For me, I knew that once we were on the road, I could exhale. We would be off on the adventure! Memories were about to be made. We would bond while “roughing it.”
But were we really “roughing it”?!? French Press, extra-long, extendable marshmallow roasting sticks, wine, Ipads, Legos and down comforter were packed. Or so we thought. We had everything we needed to experience God’s beautiful creation—-in comfort. And yet despite the thorough lists, and even double checking each item two times, we still forgot bedding for my husband and myself. I say “we”, but really, it was me. I somehow missed a crucial item. When it hits the mid-50s at night and you are in a tent, blankets or sleeping bags are not really negotiable. Was God trying to help me really “rough it”? To test my worth and see what I was made of?
The non-negotiable elements of our faith journey can become lists used to plan out our daily lives. Sunday? Head to church. 6:00am? Time to be up having a quiet reflective time. Panhandler asking for spare change? Empty your purse, smile, be on your way. But are the non-negotiable elements of faith we so desperately want to impart to our children or be seen to possess in our own lives, truly LISTS? I wonder if we begin to see each aspect as something to attain. To get. To pack. To check off. To do. To possess….when God is raising the “red flag” on the sidelines trying to get a word in edgewise. “Hey, Guys?!? Over here!! Did you forget? What you need is already within you. Don’t add it to your shopping list, just pay attention.”
Like our own children, prematurely buckled into the car, antsy to GET ON WITH IT. Like myself, smug with Type A satisfaction that I had made my list and checked it twice. Like so many of us, toting around our figured out understandings about who God is and how God works…we often need a reminder that knowing and pursuing God and modeling that journey to our children is different than we anticipated. It isn’t something to figure out or even plan for. God’s Spirit doesn’t follow our rules, plans or agendas.
To follow after God requires a paradigm shift. Letting go of the lists. Releasing expectations. “Roughing it” by removing our perceived comforts and necessary must haves, seeing what God has already placed within us. God’s love. God’s joy. God’s peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness and Self-Control. The fruit of God’s very Spirit that is part of our selves from the moment we are created. Rather than packing all of these qualities, demanding them of our children, trying to rough it on our own, it is a call to listen, pay attention and make space.
Our parish associate preached on gentleness last Sunday and she reminded that gentleness is really about creating room for others to share their story. It was a light bulb moment for me, ever the “always on the go,” list-maker, doer, God was trying to speak to my heart. A reminder that making space for others, unlike our jam-packed car, allows for growth, breathing room and the chance to exhale. Our children deserve this too. How often do my boys feel like they are just part of my list of things pack? To finish? Rather than creating space for their story, to enter into their narrative and listen. Often that feels rough. And difficult. And unnecessary. But, lucky for us, God has already placed what essentials we need in us. May we do the hard work to tap into these “fruits” instead of focusing on all we think we need to pack for the journey. To realize that “roughing it” might look quite different than we planned and change us in ways we weren’t expecting.