One afternoon, we were instructed to spend a couple hours practicing solitude, silence, and stillness. I decided to spend the time in my room, but with the window open. I pulled my chair up right in front of the window, breathed in the fresh air, and took in the beautiful view. I was right on the lake and there was a big tree right outside. It was almost bare, almost ready for winter, with a few remnants of leaves - of autumn - left on its branches.
At its base, I noticed a group of tiny birds and a ginormous squirrel. Side note: I’ve since been told that it was actually a normal sized squirrel for the Midwest, and squirrels in Florida are just scrawny. Perhaps that is true. But I digress. This squirrel wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary or really anything that would typically draw my attention, other than being much bigger and fluffier than I’m used to. It was just a squirrel at the base of a tree, minding its own business, foraging for its daily bread. Or seeds. Or nuts. Or bugs. Or whatever it is squirrels in Kansas are eating these days. The birds hopped around doing the same, chirping and pecking at the leaves.
As I sat and watched this little group of animals looking for and collecting what they could for the winter, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the simple work they were doing.
Because even though that tree was just about bare, they were still able to find the nourishment they needed.
In many ways, life has felt like that barren tree. Dry and sparse. God’s goodness has been a bit harder to find, to notice, in a year like 2020. But that doesn’t mean that God is completely hidden or that there isn’t any goodness to be found. It just means that when it isn’t as obvious as we would like it to be, seeking it out becomes even more important. As cheesy as it might sound, in many ways, my posture this year has been like those tiny animals at the base of that tree, foraging for God’s goodness.
Foraging for God’s goodness looks a lot like slowing down. Seeking out. Digging deep. Turning over what seems like a lost cause and finding a sometimes surprising reason to hope. It’s meeting God in the small and quiet and subtle rather than the large, loud, and obvious. In many ways, its training ourselves to expect the unexpected. As Dallas Willard wrote in his book, Hearing God,
“We must be open to the possibility of God’s addressing us in whatever way he chooses, or else we may walk right past a burning bush…”
It’s not that we manipulate or force something that isn’t there. Instead we remember that God is present and working and we keep our eyes open for small signs that that is true. We are intentional about looking for those reminders in the every day moments of our every day lives. And it’s those small reminders that often provide a nudge of comfort and inspiration to keep pressing on in the face of hardship and discouragement.
In 1 Kings 19, we meet a discouraged Elijah. He is in the wilderness, tired, and hiding from people who want him dead. Elijah tells God that he has had enough and even goes as far as to ask God to take his life because as far as he is concerned, he is done and finished. But God sustains Elijah in that desert place and eventually tells him to step outside of the cave he is hiding in, in order to experience the presence of God. In verses 11-13, we read,
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
And it is in that gentle whisper, in that still, small voice, that God spoke to Elijah. The holy was found, not in the impressive or dramatic, but in the simple and ordinary. And sometimes we forget - I forget - that God can still be found in the subtleties of today.
A couple weeks ago, I watched a short video of my almost two-year-old nephew. He was standing next to a lamp that had a chain to turn it on and off. In the video, he pulled the chain. The lamp lit up. And his expression in response exuded pure delight and wonder as he turned to the camera and whispered, “WOW.” It was something so simple. So basic. So ordinary. And yet he was filled with awe and wonder.
I’m finding that, more often than not, that’s how God shows up. And I’m learning how to recognize those small, “WOW” moments in my own life with quiet gratitude.
It’s the sunset on my drive home after a very long day.
The joy of laughing with my husband.
The kind word of a complete stranger who says exactly what I need to hear.
The way the light falls as it pours through the branches of the trees during a walk.
The comfort that flows through me as I hear a familiar melody.
A little girl telling her grandmother how much she loves her while waiting in line at Target.
The peace that meets me as I sit on the back porch while the rain falls.
A deep conversation with a good friend.
A gentle breeze on a warm day.
The random act of kindness I witness at the grocery store.
An unexpected thank you note.
The view out of an airplane window.
A squirrel scurrying around at the base of a barren tree.
It’s easy to overlook the ordinary gifts of our every day lives. And I’m finding that the more I long for God’s goodness, the more I recognize it in small and subtle reminders. The neat thing is that something that might be a reminder for you, might not be a reminder for me and vice versa. God is personal like that. But either way, when we choose to notice, we can be reminded that there is always significance and goodness to be found. There is always reason to whisper, “Wow.” Even when all seems bleak. Even when all seems lost.
Today, if you feel empty, weary, or down, remember to look for the reminders. The personal and unique reminders God has just for you. May we seek God’s goodness in unexpected places, taking notice of God’s presence and faithfulness laced throughout our everyday lives. And may the small and subtle be significant and holy as we remember what is true and good.