So often when I read, I stumble across an idea that snaps open and breathes; like scraping away a bit of frost from a window, looking outside, and realizing that there is a vast expanse of world beyond the glass. The other day I was filling in a gap of time with Annie Dillard and came across a paragraph that melted a bit of frost from my own window:
“The books I read are like the stone men built by the [Inuit] of the great desolate tundras west of Hudson’s Bay. They still build them today, according to Farley Mowat. An [Inuit] traveling alone in the flat barrens will heap round stones to the height of a man, travel till he can no longer see the beacon, and build another.”
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
At first I didn’t know what was so significant about this quote to me. I kept nudging back to it, rereading the words, allowing the fogginess to settle.
It’s really the idea of signposts, or markers, along the journey. Significant events in our lives rise up to mark where we’ve been and direct where we may be going. As we press foreword, these events may recede from sight into memory and suddenly we find ourselves in a new season, building new pillars to mark our path. Endings slide into beginnings and sometimes we need to make an altar to remind ourselves of where we’ve been; to acknowledge the place and allow it to be a point of reference.
A friend and I were talking recently about trusting in God and how we sometimes fall into the trap of tunnel vision. We trust God as long as life is relatively normal and we can see the clear path from point A to point B. Often, though, clinging to this mindset will cause us to run aground when difficult events or tests in our lives press in because if God and His goodness are defined as the ease of your life, who is God in the hard times?
Often the journey from point A to point B looks less like a straight line and more like a zig zag. God could have led the Israelites straight from Egypt to the Promised Land but instead he took them on a 40 year detour through the wilderness. I don’t believe that grief and brokenness always origionate from God, but I do believe that He can always use these “detours” to form us and shape us and lead us into a fuller, richer dependance on Him. He can and will redeem the dark wildernesses we walk through if we are open to it. Muscle is never built without resistance, and we grow through challenge. God’s vision for you is not to remain stagnant, but to pull you higher, deeper into relationship with Him.
To trust anything implies that there is an acknowledged ambiguity involved. If we, as humans, understood everything about God and his plans for our entire life, we would reduce Him to something less than ourselves. Because our world is fallen and sinful, it is inevitable that you will encounter suffering in your life. The question is, will you allow God to walk with you through it and redeem it? Even to wrestle with God in the darkness is healthier than resenting him and standing still. As long as you wrestle, you are engaged, moving, building muscle and relationship. Wrestle, but don’t forget Who you are wrestling with.
How does this connect to signposts? During these times of wrestling and darkness, I’ve marked my own path with pillars as reminders of God’s faithfulness and grace amidst the mess and the brokenness. Some have been physical altars, most have been an intentional recognition of Him in times when He seems particularly close. They are points of reference; reminders of where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s a rising history of God’s faithfulness and promises to me. Sometimes walking through suffering strips you of old, ugly pieces of yourself and the signposts mark the places they were shed. To look back on these pillars is to see your story marked and transforming as it expands. It’s a testimony of faithfulness of which you are a blessed witness.