For me, journals are altars, written monuments to the places and times when God has worked in unexplainable ways, either responding to faith or interrupting rebellion.
Though not as enduring or tough to construct as the stacks of stones the ancient Israelites used, my written remembrances provide the same thing: a store of faith that I can borrow against when God's presence and goodness aren't so obvious.
In January I considered writing a blog post about the new year, a wrap up of 2009 and a look ahead to 2010. I planned to make new resolutions, posting them on this blog and sharing them with friends as a way of keeping myself accountable.
Then I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish this year, and it began to sound all too familiar: Study Chinese more. Read the Bible more. Pray more. Be there for my family more. Be a better husband. Get in shape. All of these "new" goals were leftovers from last year's to-do list. Was I really this lame? I felt busy this year, but was I just a hamster spinning on a wheel, getting some good cardio in but not moving anywhere?
Partly for reassurance and partly to divine how I could do so much but accomplish so little, I got out my 2009 journal. There were highlights, some funny stories, audacious events and signs that God's wisdom was at times really influencing my heart. But when I searched intently, there weren't all that many altars.
I decided to trace it back to 2008. The previous year's journal had a different array of events, most of them positive, but all woven together by a somewhat consistent cycle: a lack of discipline followed by a confession, followed by a brief period of faithfulness, followed by another setback. Same story for 2007. And the hamster wheel spins on.
I think God's getting tired of watching me run in place, so on New Year's day, he gave me a resolution of his own.
It came somewhere between Albany and Atlanta, on a straight highway with farms and forests on both sides. Katy and I were talking about the challenges this year would bring. How would we navigate them without veering off course? I know it's shocking to hear, but my wife and I don't always agree on everything. How could we reconcile our views and dreams, which sometimes tended to take off in opposite directions?
We decided that there was no way that we could do this on our own. The only way to wind up in the same place, and to keep holding hands along the way, was to meet up at the same signpost and follow a trail that neither one of us had charted for ourselves. We decided that our chosen route must be the one that winds along to the sound of God's voice. He would be the one that clears the path.
But there were some inherent problems before we could even take the first steps. We talk about following this voice all the time, but what does that practically mean? How do we really learn to hear the creator's whispers without psyching ourselves out or tricking ourselves into plotting our own course of action? These topics dominated our discussion as we drove to Columbus, where we would stop to chat with a friend and mentor.
We walked in the house and sat down by a blazing fire to catch up with the mentor on recent events. As is inevitable with this godly man, who seems specially appointed to speak wisdom into my life, we settled on God and his mysterious workings as a topic of conversation. Without any mention of our talks in the car, my friend (whom we call our personal prophet only half jokingly) entered into a discourse on deciphering the will of God. The thrust of the half-hour discussion and prayer? Learn how to hear God.
At this point, for once, God grabbed my attention, using a bit of humor and irony to drive home the point: I, like so many saints before me, had closed my ears to the one voice I professed to be the megaphone for my soul. While on Earth, Jesus always said, "He who has ears, let him hear." I've always had these curiously shaped sound-catchers on the sides of my head. Shouldn't that merit me some spiritual understanding? Apparently not. With all manner of humor and irony, God was speaking to me about hearing. He was revealing that I needed a different set of ears, a spiritual set, tuned only to the frequency within which his sweet voice falls softly.
I won't recount all the intricacies of the conversation or claim that I've made any significant strides toward my next destination, but I have realized what it takes to find the right path, to take the first steps toward the allure of his voice. It's simple, really. It starts with shutting up the part of me that screams like a spoiled child for authority, that whines when it can't see around the next bend, that complains when fatigue sets in. Only when we stop staring at our own feet will we see - and hear - where His path leads.