“I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.” In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin (English travel book, 1977)
Waves of refugees from conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to pour on foot into Germany and Northern Europe via Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 366,402 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, with 2,800 dead or missing. I wonder. What kind of courage does it take for people to make that first step, leaving their homes to face an uncertain future?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu) What first step do you need to take today? On July 15, I crossed the 25 million step mark. In May of 2012 I started wearing a pedometer, as do most United Methodist clergy in Michigan. Statistics show that we are an unhealthy bunch: over-weight, over-stressed and over-anxious. The human condition is that we were created to move, but many of us have to sit most of the day.
My pedometer is as ever-present as my cell phone. It’s not a fancy piece of technology with all the bells and whistles. It simply records steps, and steps are not always a complete reflection of fitness. You can swim across Lake Michigan or lift weights all day, and you will not record any steps.
It all begins with the first step, however, doesn’t it? Even if we cannot physically walk, we are constantly challenged to take first steps. Whatever our task, goal or dream, having the courage and determination to start is the only way to begin. I was eager to reach 25 million steps because it is halfway around the world. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 25,000 miles. Therefore, if the average person walks 2,000 steps a mile, you would have to walk 50 million steps to make it around the world. That’s counting on the fact that you can walk on water!
The smallest number of daily steps I took over those years was 3,408, and the largest number of steps in a day was 97,142 (ironman triathlon).
Think about the steps you have taken in your life.
- Your very first step, opening up a whole new world, yet one you don’t remember except in pictures
- Steps of joy, walking your child to the first day of kindergarten
- Steps of faith, offering your life to Jesus for the first time
- Steps of grief, walking through the process of death with a loved one, then walking down aisle of the church to be seated at your beloved’s funeral
- Steps of discovery, walking down a street in Charleston and serendipitously coming across the house where John Wesley’s first U.S. hymnbook was printed
- Steps of awe, like rounding a corner of a path and the scene takes your breath away
- Steps of fear, running away from the horror of 9-11 in Manhattan or walking into the emergency room, not knowing the condition of a loved one who was in an accident
- Steps of anxiety, walking into a meeting not sure whether you will still have your job when you walk out
- Steps up church towers; onto hospital floors; in a CROP Walk; with your elderly father to the dining room; with an infant grandson in a stroller; to the sound of a cardinal or rushing water or a carillon
- Steps leading to fulfillment of a lifelong goal
- Steps of solidarity with those who are dismissed, disenfranchised or dissed
- Steps in the wrong direction, leading to a dead end or even failure
How grateful I am for a God who walked in the Garden of Eden in the time of the evening breeze. And how grateful I am for a Savior who stepped into virtually every situation we will ever face: walking into an angry mob, walking into a crowd that begged him for healing, walking off to a deserted place by himself, walking to a well where he offered living water to a Samaritan woman, walking to the cross. Jesus walked most everywhere. I wonder how many steps he took in a day.
One of my current heroes is Paul Salopek. The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist is on a seven-year mission to walk 21,000 miles around the world in a journey that attempts to reproduce human global migration. Salopek started in January 2013 in Africa and will walk through the Middle East, across Asia (he is currently in Tbilisi, Georgia in Asia), over to Alaska, down the western United States and Central America and ending at the tip of Chile, South America.
Salopek writes about his decision to get off the fast track of instant journalism, “Everyone is going faster and faster and getting shallower and shallower. I said, ‘How about we slow down a bit to grab a little mindshare by going in the opposite direction.’ The rewards have been far in excess of my expectations, both professionally and personally.” You can follow Paul’s journey at outofedenwalk.com.
Although we never travel anywhere without the first step, I believe the most important step is always the next step. What will you do when the going gets tough? What happens when you encounter toils, dangers and snares? How will you proceed when you get lost or encounter a detour? Which direction will you go when the God of walkers calls your name? How will you journey through life in a way that honors the inherent risk in walking?
- Sometimes the next step involves backtracking because listening to feedback causes us to go another way.
- Sometimes we have to run because there is an urgency to decisions.
- Sometimes the next steps are steep, so we need a Herculean effort of will.
- Sometimes we can’t even take the next step until we apologize for hurting someone.
- Sometimes it’s best to walk in groups, even though we cannot go any faster than the slowest person if we journey together.
- Sometimes the next step is walking alone, making tough decisions as leaders and being willing to boldly step around, over or through obstacles others place in our way.
- Sometimes we have to choose the road less taken, blazing a new path in the forest.
- Sometimes we have to walk when we would rather stay in bed and not face the day.
- Sometimes we have to walk into a storm, for there is no other way.
- Sometimes we will get lost even if we have a compass.
- Sometimes the next step demands grit, determination and risk.
- Sometimes the next step will lead to reconciliation and away from bitterness.
- Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to pay attention to the Holy Spirit while we walk and be completely open to where God might lead us; after all, it’s the next step that counts.
- Sometimes those we encounter on the journey are angels in disguise.
It doesn’t matter how many steps you take. The only thing that counts is that you take the first step … then the next … and the next … and the next. For our God is the God of the journey, the God of walkers. What next step do you need to take this week?