I hate walking.
Let me rephrase. I hate walking without a destination, without a purpose. This isn’t what Jessica (my wife) likes to hear. She enjoys walking for the sake of walking, going out without a destination and just seeing where her feet will take her. It’s an activity, I’ve discovered, that most of her family likes as well. Just get up and walk around the block for the fun of it. Except it’s not fun. It’s useless.
Now, if we made a game of it, brought along a football, or decided to walk to the farmer’s market to buy a donut at the Oh Doughnuts stand, I’m all in. Tell me that we’re walking to church, or to our friend’s house, or out for supper and I’d love it. I love moving. I love exercise. I love sports. But I hate walking just for the sake of walking.
But almost 10 years ago, I went on one of the most important walks of my life. It was a walk to encounter God, and I was angry.
I was at Bodenseehof in Germany, a Torchbearers Bible School. The school was finished and I was asked to stay on for a six-month internship to help with their camp and retreat programs. I was part of a sing team with five other amazing people (Jessica being one of them).
Youth groups and families would come from all over Germany to do retreats at the school. We were in charge of the music, games, activities, cleaning, dishes, and so much more. We got to know so many wonderful people and we had the opportunity to serve our guests in a very open, vulnerable, and cross-cultural kind of way.
As the spring and summer continued, I found myself bogged down by the repetitive and fast-paced nature of our work. With each new group we would slowly get to know them, then hang out as if we were best friends, have an amazing time of worship and learning, and then have to say goodbye knowing we would likely never see each other again.
Halfway through the six months, I felt really low, out of energy and finding it hard to smile. I still did the music, concerts, games and all, but I had lost my joy in doing it. Maybe it was burnout, maybe it was a season of despair, but either way I felt spent. I felt like I had very little left to give.
As I reflected on my situation, I started feeling angry at God. I wondered why I felt like this. Here I was, giving up six months of my life because I felt like He had called me to serve but I felt terrible. It simply wasn’t fair. Why did I feel like this and why didn’t God give me the joy I thought I deserved? Where was my reward for doing this work? I didn’t know what else to do.
So I decided to take a walk.
This was unusual. As I mentioned before, I don’t like walking but I felt the need to get away from the school, from all the energetic kids, from all the fun I thought I should have, and really yell at God for a bit.
And so I walked through the streets of Fischbach thinking about where I should go. The only place I knew that might be a good place for me to let out some frustration was a playground a few streets away. As I walked I tried to pray, but I didn’t know what to say. All that came out was asking God why I was feeling this way.
I arrived at the playground, climbed up the structure, and sat down. I tried to pray more, talking to God and telling Him how I felt. I kept asking why and kept asking Him to take it away. I kept reminding Him that this was not fair and that I should be happy, full of energy, and loving my work.
But then, as I sat and listened, it was as if I heard a voice in my head say three simple words.
“I love you.”
And then over and over and over, like a song on repeat, these words were spoken in my mind again and again.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
It was as if I couldn’t find the stop button to turn it off. It just kept playing over and over. I sat there for at least 5 minutes with these words going through my head, and I was sure that these words were words of comfort from God for me.
This is the closest I’ve ever come to God speaking directly to me, and those three words were all that was said. I never got an answer for why I was feeling so down. I never got an “I know life’s not fair.” I never got a pep talk from God. Instead, I heard God say the one phrase that I probably heard the most in church. But this was different. I was able to take it for myself and believe it, even in the midst of my difficult time.
That walk to the park in Fischbach was not without purpose. I went to yell at God and to figure out what was wrong with me. Instead, in the stillness I discovered the most basic Christian truth made personal and real for me. I got exactly what I needed.
But it’s not like everything got better right away. In fact it took a while for me to realize that in the midst of my ministry I had forgotten to take time alone with God, to replenish myself, to be still and to simply be with God. But I knew, as I was again finding my place, that if there was one thing I could be sure of, it was God’s love for me. As imperfect, stubborn and selfish as I am, God loves me. Even when the world is crashing in around me and I don’t have any answers, God loves me.
So even if you think it’s useless and a waste of time, if you get the chance, I would encourage you to take a walk with God. It may be one of the most important walks of your life.