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The Way We Walk

I went for a walk at lunch today.  A frustrating morning… needed to clear my head, to think, to pray.

I often walk on a weedy red shale path alongside an irrigation canal that snakes behind our church on the outskirts of town.    There’s not much of a view to speak of.   Some farmland, an agricultural research facility, a big motor sports dealership, a meat processing plant off in the distance.  Off in the other direction I can hear the hum of machinery and industry where a new hotel going up across the highway.

But in the spring and the summer, there is water in the canal.  And I like to walk by water.

I have a picture on the wall in my study of a path that I used to walk on when we lived on Vancouver Island.  It’s an idyllic scene—blue ocean water, driftwood lazily resting on the shore, moss-covered rocks, a sunset off in the cloud-streaked horizon.  I thought of this path as I walked along the irrigation canal today.  I thought of strolling beside the ocean as the tide came in and of the magnificent arbutus trees that lined the path nearby.  I thought of sitting, reading a book, and watching the fishing boats and the ferries go by.  I thought of the starfish and the sea otters we used to see.

I looked around.  I saw a gopher.

And the water gently trickled down the irrigation canal.

I sighed.

I thought of these two walks along the water and how easily we compare, how easily we imagine that somewhere else is better than here, how easily we assume that if only we were somewhere newer, shinier, more postcard-ish, things would be better.  If only we had a new house, a new job, a new lover, new kids, new habits, a new car, a new church, a new pair of shoes, a holiday.  Things would be so much better without all of this oldness, this plainness, this ordinariness kicking around the place, getting in the way of our grand plans, our great expectations.

How elusive contentment is.  It sounds like such a good idea.  A great idea, even.  We know that we need it, that we were made for it.  We admire those who (we think) have achieved it.  It lures and beckons like the promised land.  We imagine our future selves saying things like, “and then I discovered the joy of true contentment.”  We really should get around to that some day.  But in the mean time, if we could only…

After walking, I spent some time reading:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

Contentment is not the sort of thing that we can slavishly pant and chase after.  It’s not waiting around the corner for us, if we could just do, have, fix, accomplish, discover _____.   Contentment refuses to play a game where there are no winners.  Contentment is fundamentally about trust; it’s about learning what and how to treasure.

Contentment is, come to think of it, more about a who than a what or a when or a how.  It depends upon nothing more (or less) than the settled conviction that God is good, that God has placed us in a good place, that we are loved, and that this is enough.

Contentment is happy just to walk by the water, whether it’s the mighty Pacific Ocean or a quiet irrigation canal on the windswept prairies.

Wherever and whenever, this is the way we walk.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mark #

    ‘Contentment is, come to think of it, more about a who than a what or a when or a how. It depends upon nothing more (or less) than the settled conviction that God is good, that God has placed us in a good place, that we are loved, and that this is enough.’

    Hard to swallow today Ryan but likely a truth I needed. Thanks for these words today

    June 6, 2013
    • Wishing you much peace, Mark—especially on days when contentment is elusive and it’s hard to believe God is good.

      June 7, 2013
  2. This post feels sad and wistful… like the person who is trying hard to rationalize their way out of grief. Sorry. Sigh.

    I once lived next to the Sierras, but for many years now I have lived in the flat Midwest. I still miss the mountains. When I see someone driving a SUV with the name Mountaineer, I laugh out loud.

    You write beautifully, Ryan, even when you are sad. Perhaps especially then.

    June 6, 2013
    • I seem to write to rationalize my way out of and into many things :). Thank for these kind words, Chris.

      June 7, 2013
  3. Larry S #

    Thanks for the irrigation ditch picture, Ryan. The irrigation ditch instantly took me back to some of the most beautiful times of my life. And as a Westcoast resident, remembering an Albertan irrigation ditch as beautiful is quite a memory. But I remember ….. saddling the Dunn at around 6.30 a.m. and going out alone, listening to him breath and the sound of his hoofs on the grass, watching a coyote waking across a frozen pond, some deer, gophers and antelope. My memories of riding along the canals don’t include any nearby industry …. rather heading out to open lease where fences were about a mile apart and letting the Dunn run so fast that my eyes teared because of the wind against my face, letting the reins go loose when we galloped over a gopher village knowing (hoping) the Dunn as a truly prairie raised horse could pick his way through the holes. And I could feel him picking his way over the holes as we blasted along.

    I usually let my beloved know the general area I was heading but had told her that if I ever turned up dead that I had gone out doing what I truly loved (upon refection that may have been selfish). Later, I heard that some of my prairie (cowboy) friends were speculating about how long it would take me to wreck, because that Dunn was very ‘hot’ (and not in the way that city people think of hot) and I was ‘green.’

    One thing that sucks about contentment, memory and place is that wherever we are we take ourselves with us (wherever you are, there you are). So I’d tweak this one sentence of your refection’s – “Contentment is, come to think of it, more about a who (God) than a what or a when or a how.” I think Contentment may be more about who we are … although, I agree with the theological trajectory of your comments (preach your post someday soon 🙂 ) So if I can like the person staring back at me while I shave because of how I’ve dealt with my crap and am living my life – I move towards contentment and learning to find joy in the day.

    You write beautifully and when you post your Alberta pictures you trigger some of my most profound memories.

    Blessings and thanks
    Larry S

    June 6, 2013
    • Thanks for this, Larry. My Alberta experience doesn’t sound nearly as exotic as yours! Sounds like some amazing times in the saddle.

      “Wherever I go, there I am…” I had thought about including this line in the post, believe it or not :). It expresses something pretty important, as you say. And I appreciate the important nuance this adds. I imagine knowing God is (or can be) a pretty important way of coming to like ourselves and move toward contentment.

      At any rate, thanks again for the story and for your kind words.

      June 7, 2013
  4. mike #

    The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
    Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
    Clarice Starling: He kills women…
    Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
    Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir…
    Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
    Clarice Starling: No. We just…
    Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?

    June 6, 2013
    • Yes. Our eyes seek out the things we want, and all kinds of problems follow…

      June 7, 2013
  5. Bruno #

    Humm, remembering my moments on lake Huron’s shores.
    Water level is low in the canal, we’ve been favored with timely rains,
    Sun is out and bright
    We are blessed.

    June 7, 2013

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