I am married to a man who loves to conquer. When we lived in the mountains he would run their trails, training for his next marathon. If he wasn’t running, he was rock climbing, striving to conquer a new route up the face of one of the mountain monoliths.
We could not be more different. I learned early on that no matter how fit I was, when my breathing accelerated to a certain point, my chest would close up with exercise-induced asthma. No, I am more of a saunterer. Not just my body but my spirit likes to slow down, take in the sights around me, and fill my senses with the beauty of the trail.
I ran across this quote last week which describes it well:
“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.” – John Muir
Conquering vs. sauntering shows up in many areas of our lives. Are we pushing the people around us to perform to a certain standard, or are we encouraging and inspiring them to reach higher? Are we so driven by what’s ahead of us that we are disregarding the beauty around us?
I had occasion to talk to someone struggling with sin this week and my first thought was, “Ok, what do we need to do to fix this?” I was homed in on conquering the problem. But after asking God for wisdom, He reminded me that more than fixing behavior, the heart also needs renovation. We may or may not be successful at conquering sin through sheer strength of will, but the root of every issue comes down to abiding in the presence of God and walking with the Holy Spirit – sauntering with Him in the deeper places of our hearts.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Brother Lawrence called it “Practicing the Presence of God”. Jill Briscoe calls it “The steps of my soul, the deep place where nobody goes”. It’s that place of abiding with Jesus not apart from life, but in the midst of it.
I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time to conquer. Much of the good work in this world wouldn’t be done without the effort and sweat and dogged determination of those who strain toward a noble goal. But some of us replace those noble goals with pride and self-sufficiency, or we start building our own kingdoms, instead of His. And sometimes in the process of conquering a goal, we end up treating people as things to conquer on the way.
There needs to be a holy stillness at the core of our striving. Like the eye of a hurricane, we need to maintain a steady place inside where we rest and commune with our Maker, even in the midst of chaos; a secret garden where our spirit saunters with His even as we strain toward the goal to which He’s called us. This is the place that keeps us grounded; the place where we are reminded of our reason for pressing ahead; the place where we keep our souls centered on Whose we are, and why.
Like those pilgrims of old, we too are heading to the Holy Land. And we are not traveling alone, but in the company of many others, all of us making our way, boldly or timidly, toward the light. The trail may be steep, but it is also beautiful – each step a gift to be appreciated as we head upward, ever upward, to our home.