For about five seconds on my way to school every morning, I see the goodness and beauty of God.
I know, that sounds harsh, as if the goodness of God is so confined. But Monday through Thursday, I make my sleepy fifteen minute commute to school, and as I coax the four cylinder car up the steep Sierra College Boulevard, there is about a five second window when no houses or trees obstruct my view, and I look out at the valley before me. The green trees are lit aflame in the glow of the morning sunrise and a light mist hovers atop the canopy. I can see houses from about five different cities hiding here and there as they give way to the tall green foothills bowing below the Sierra Nevada mountain range. And I think what a great God I have that created and sustains such a world, who provides these subtle yet spectacular views.
You see, I am one of those people who responds well to the character of God as revealed in nature. I feel closer to God when I’m sitting in a grassy field beneath a tree staring at a brilliant blue sky. Some people find this same kind of inspiration amidst the excitement of a bustling city or in the creation of a cake made from scratch. But for me, it’s the outdoors. So you can imagine why living in a suburb might not exactly meet my inspirational desires. But for about five seconds on my drive to an early morning class, something different, something beautiful reminds me of who my God is.
I have these five seconds because I am learning to intentionally look for them.
About a year ago, they didn’t exist for me. Instead, I would make my way to school anxious for the day to be over, wondering how in the world I could enjoy living where I did, how I could see God in a place where every corner is comprised of shopping centers and housing developments. Amidst a monotonous, lonely and unfulfilling lifestyle, I struggled to find the beauty and goodness of God that I knew, theoretically, was there. My ability to connect with God, had, in essence, become extremely dependent on the condition of my circumstances. And in my opinion, mine was not ideal.
But in the midst of my frustration, I asked questions.
Does God only exist in beautiful places? Is He only there in the midst of good conversations and friends? Do I have to drive to remove myself from people and seas of concrete to be able to spend a meaningful time with my Lord? I knew all of these were untrue, but I had come to rely so much on my environment to determine how I experienced God.
It is true that surroundings and life circumstances can indeed have an influence. As I mentioned before, we all have places and things that we’re, in a sense, wired to connect with in a meaningful way, and those can make us feel closer to God. But it is easy to feel like everything has to be just so in order to have a good “quiet time” or to really experience God. It is easy when school work needs to get done, and kids need to get fed, to forget our desperate need for God, or find it hard to see Him when everything looks the same day after day.
Basically, I found myself thinking that God, and experiencing Him, was supposed to look a certain way, and for me, that “way” just wasn’t happening. I confined God to my feeble limitations and experiences, to the finiteness of the world and my environment. I knew God’s goodness and beauty and revelations were all around me, but I didn’t know how to tap into them. I kind of just prayed that God would show me and expected that things would just pop up, and BAM! revelation and awe and wonder would happen.
But they didn’t. Instead, after a long while of waiting rather impatiently, I discovered that, like many good things in life, seeing God isn’t usually something that just happens. It takes effort on my part. It takes training my eye and focusing my heart and mind and choosing to see the fullness of Him which is all around me, many times in the little, normal things like those five seconds on the way to school.
I think about my brothers and sisters overseas who don’t have the luxury of going on retreats to beautiful places or curling up with a warm blanket and chai tea on a cool morning to experience God better. They languish in prison cells or work tediously in fields day after day and still somehow find a reason to see God as someone worthy to be praised and served. I want to be like that.
I prayed and waited for a while for the goodness of God to be revealed to me. And although I love it when it happens when I least expect it, we must learn to look for ourselves and see the mystery and treasures God has hidden for us to find. It is a muscle that must be exercised not merely for our own benefit, but because God deserves the praise.