I have called myself a planner for most of my adult life.
I was an elementary school teacher for eleven years. My whole job depended upon planning. What is an educator without her lesson plans? Knowing what to cover, how to accommodate students with different abilities, what to do if we ran over or finished early, how to give them practice and assessments—thinking of these things took me hours when I started, but as I grew, I could whip out an agenda quite quickly. Becoming efficient and hyper-focused on objectives rewarded me with better teaching evaluations and more evenings to spend how I wished.
However, those tendencies leaked into my personal time. I booked up every available night to maximize fun with friends. When arranging a vacation, I lost sleep mapping routes and interesting stops along the way, timing it out so I could squeeze it all in. I rarely allowed room for improvisation or change. Once, on a meticulously planned road trip through North Carolina, my husband and I met a man at a museum who told us of a spectacular herd of elk that came out on the mountain ridge each sunset. Romantic as it sounded, it didn’t line up with my dinner plan in the next city, so off we flew like the white rabbit with his stopwatch (well, me at least—Chris was Alice, struggling to catch up and asking what we were late for).
Most of my routines and plans have vanished these past two years. I bade farewell to teaching to step into a self-employed music career, and the blessing and curse of open-ended time confronted me. I spent most days alone. I struggled with my physical and mental health. I learned things about my family and my past that had never crossed my think-of-every-possibility mind. The lack of a roadmap for this foreign terrain sent my anxiety levels through the roof.
To cut through the fog, I began trying to run in the morning. Keyword: trying. It wasn’t pretty. Steep hills surrounded our house. I wheezed laps around the nearby county office complex and excused myself to do less when exhaustion hit, which was often. But once, on a whim, I huffed down the hill toward a neighborhood and discovered hidden sidewalks winding throughout the townhouses. Many were shaded by trees and snaked behind the houses to border the woods. As it was cooler to run in the shade than a parking lot, I returned again and again. I veered left one day, right the next. I found special tree nooks and backyard gardens with yappy dogs and overgrown trails that connected to the road I lived on. With each passing run, I couldn’t wait to find out where I would end up the next time. Interestingly, that suspense led me to run much farther than I had when I slogged through numbered, predictable laps.
When I drove to appointments to help heal my body and my mind, I started searching for parks on the way back home. I would find a different one each time and explore. I hear God best in nature, but my old way of life rarely left gaps of time for me to walk a trail or find a stream. At first on these ventures, I would search for maps, downloading them on my phone to guide where I was going. It seemed safe and responsible. While it’s absolutely a good idea to have a map on hand, my attraction to it became another series of problems to solve as I searched for landmarks on the map and worried about whether I was in the wrong place. I wanted to do it the “right” way.
Eventually, I resolved to treat the map as a resource to consult only in case of trouble. I stepped out onto the trail and just followed my feet. When I got to a fork, I stilled the anxious voice in my head and asked God to give me a gut feeling. Quelling the temptation to complete an objective let me notice my surroundings. It slowed my mind. It renewed my sense of wonder. I marveled at unusual trees, surprise springs, flowers I didn’t recognize. Excitement started to replace my feelings of doubt when I would reach a new diverging path.
It was new and yet familiar. Memories of wandering as a child started to come back to me. As an only child until I was almost seven, delving into our five-acre property was my favorite way to pass the time. I would crawl through thickets, discover tree seats, find new hollows and creatures, and simply soak in the surprise of it all. I had forgotten the sensation.
I recently led worship at a church far from home, and as I got into the car afterward, I felt the urge to wander. I found a nature center in the area, parked, and set off into the woods. The way the paths joined up was confusing at first. I had seen pictures online of a big lake and I couldn’t get a sense of which direction it was. After doubling back on a path or two, I started to pull out my phone to search for a map. But Something in me said, “No. Wander. Trust.” So I put it back in my pocket, and at the next path, I subtly prayed and picked a direction.
I found another choice of two paths and felt prompted to go right. It led into a lush, fern-filled glade, and I took out my phone to take a picture of the beauty before me. I then heard something snap to my right. I turned, and not ten feet away was a doe with her tiny, spotted, spindly fawn. She looked at me, and I looked at her. They didn’t run. She watched me as her baby ate, our eyes locked. She eventually guided his slow, clumsy steps a little deeper into the forest, looking back at me every few seconds. I stood transfixed. I’ve seen deer in the woods, but I have never been this close to them or seen such a young fawn in person.
It was hushed, holy ground.
If I had focused on a map, I would have missed that moment. If I had focused on finding the “right way,” on only the destination, I would not have shared in what God had for me.
After several minutes, I exhaled fully and thanked God for the lesson and the gift—for showing me the riches in letting Him direct my steps and my heart.
It has been hard for me to linger in a season of not knowing where I’m going, or how to get there. But I serve a God who told Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The land He will show. No map, no directions, no defined endpoint at the start. Abram went and listened for each next step. I am learning the art of this. And greater than any perfectly executed plan, I am finding the joy of wandering.