One thing I love to do as a college professor is to take students outside. The ultimate version of this is my field biology course which ends with a week-long expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. I love exposing students to the raw, untamed creation. To completely take them out of everything that is currently consuming them and holding their attention. It totally wakes them up; the serene quiet and stillness. Nothing can hide out there. You are exposed. I just finished this annual course a few weeks ago. It was a great trip like usual, but there was something that stirred in my heart – something that was spoken to me – that I would like to share with you.
There is always time for one’s self on a trip like this, which is also probably why an introvert like me enjoys leading a trip like this one. I always try to have some materials to read and study when I am alone in my tent. I had been reading The Ransomed Heart which is a collection of different excerpts of John Eldredge’s books arranged devotional style. Eldredge is one of my favorite authors and I have gained much insight from his raw honesty and authentic view of what it means to walk with Jesus Christ. I had actually found this collection right before I was to leave on the trip which was perfect. You see, I believe if I am going to leave my family for a week in the wilderness I better take full advantage of the time alone and allow God to work on my heart. It is always my goal to come back to Anna and Jonah a little farther along in the journey of becoming the husband and father that God wants me to be and that they need me to be.
On the second to last night the weather turned which forced us into our tents for the night; the four students in their tents and me in my solo tent. Since this happened much earlier than when I wanted to go to sleep I took advantage of the time of not being directly in charge and picked up the devotional. I read a couple passages that were speaking of the heart and then I landed on one that really hit home. It is entitled The Point of All Living. It speaks of love not just in a greater sense but in a specific one – a sense of love that is deeply personal and individualized. This is not the love we speak of often or really at all, but I think Eldredge has a solid point. Here is a little bit of it here so that you understand what I am going to tell you next.
Everything you love is what makes life worth living. Take a moment, set down the book, and make a list of all the things you love. Don’t edit yourself; don’t worry about prioritizing or anything of that sort. Simply think of all the things you love. Whether it’s the people in your life or the things that bring you joy or the places that are dear to you or your God, you could not love them if you did not have a heart. Loving requires a heart alive and awake and free. A life filled with loving is a life most the one that God lives, which is life as it was meant to be (Esph. 5:1-2)
Of all the things that are required of us in this life, which is the most important? What is the real point of our existence? Jesus was confronted with the question point-blank one day, and he boiled it all down to two things: loving God and loving others. Do this, he said, and you will find the purpose of your life…. Somewhere down inside we know it’s true; we know love is the point. (Waking the Dead, emphasis mine)
I honestly had never really considered what I loved, really considered it. It hit me: figuring this out would give me a clear picture of what love is which is exactly what I am called to be to others. I understood that if I didn’t really know what I loved then how could I show someone love? God’s timing cracks me up sometimes. There I was stuck in a tent reading a passage that was asking me to do something. I had no excuse. I had time, solitude, a pen, a notebook, etc. So I got writing. I took it a step farther and didn’t just write down what I loved, but why I loved these people and these things. When something would pop into my mind I would meditate on what was it that caused me to love these people and things so much?
Then God took it a step further. The next day was our last day in the wilderness and it was miserable. It was cold, windy, and rainy. All day long we were tent bound. I was even considering pulling out early which is saying a lot because I am not one to let the weather kick me out of the BWCA. I started to get disappointed and frustrated to end the trip in this way. I really try to make the last day special and intentionally incorporate some quiet time and solitude for the students to really contemplate what God spoke to them on this trip. Finally, after being in the tent for about six hours, God gave me a nudge. I pulled out my notebook and added a couple more things, but that wasn’t it. God nudged me again. So I called out to the students and told them I had an assignment for them. I wish I could have seen their faces! I read the devotional and some of my “loves” and then instructed them to create their own list. I then left it up to them to engage. I honestly was skeptical that they would. However, I was completely proven wrong later as I found out that they all did.
I am deciding to again be faithful to God’s call to my life to be open and vulnerable through this blog. So I am going to share some of my “loves” with you. This is not the complete list as some are just between Jesus and me but I hope that you see the power in this exercise. I am writing them straight from my journal – pure and unedited. So here I go:
Jesus pure and simple. He is the most real, raw, unfettered, and beautiful person I have ever encountered.
Anna. Her live-life-to-the-fullest personality. Her pure and simple life. The way that everyone who experiences her falls in love with her. Her freedom.
Jonah. His energy. His freedom to live just as he was designed – fully. His adventurous spirit, my little warrior. His imagination and the way that his brain works. The way that he engages with anyone no matter who they are.
Wilderness. Its raw; unadultered beauty. Its mystery and secrets. The way it shows me glimpses of Eden.
Water pure and cold. The way it refreshes my tired bones. The way it cleans the soul. The way it feels running through my fingers.
Rivers free flowing. Fast and slightly dangerous with amazing force and power. The way they sound and the way they sculpt and carve the landscape. The way it feels to become one with them as I am running them. The way they make me feel alive. Their risky beauty – it completely unnerves me in a way that awakens something deep in my soul.
Cooking over a fire. There is something so pure, so primal about it. It unlocks something ancient inside me.
Paddling. It restores my soul. It ministers to me in a way that not much else can. There is such elegance to it and it is when I feel most graceful in my lanky body. It is the most coordinated I can ever hope to be, like I was designed perfectly to do this action.
Creation. It speaks so loudly of God’s power, glory, presence. It is almost impossible to miss God’s words for me when I am out in it. It fascinates me. I am mesmerized by it. Not much holds my attention and focus like it does.
Reading. Words on a page cut deeper than words spoken. They have such power. They enter into me in a way that deeply roots them to my soul. There they grow and bring forth fruit.
Working with my hands. Creating draws me into the heart of our Creator. I see his fingerprints on the way my hands can manipulate, build, repair, invent, etc. It is thoughts becoming reality.
Being a father. It is when I feel most like God’s image bearer. It is completely overwhelming and challenging but to see my son respond to my love is something that is too wonderful to describe.
Adventure. Facing the unknown and unexpected. The exhilaration of the risk one sin engaged in and committed to. The thrill of the search, the fight, the journey, the treasure one finds in the process. The satisfaction of the accomplishment. The freedom it grants.
Teaching. Communicating some complex thing in a way that brings understanding is one of the most deeply satisfying and fulfilling actions I have ever attempted. It is an incredible challenge and a huge risk. It requires so much passion and you must give a piece of yourself every time but when a student gains a spark that turns into a rushing fire it suddenly raps a reward that is hard to rival.
There are others but I think you can see why the assignment was meaningful for me. Maybe this post right now as you read these words is the nudge from God that you need to make your list. Maybe this is long overdue for you. Maybe by being obedient to this prompting it would give you some insight that explains some things for you; things that have long been misinterpreted or misunderstood. Maybe you would discover something holy and pure deep in your heart like I did. You will never know unless you try. What are you waiting for?