It was the thirteenth day of my summer adventure and God still hadn’t spoken to me in the way I wanted him to. Where was the big revelation? Where was the clarity on the direction of my life? Where was the reason for the unidentifiable aura of general discontentment which blanketed my life? Things were not horrible. I was still having a great trip and seeing so many things to be thankful for, especially in retrospect, but I longed for God to speak to me in the ways He’s spoken to me in the past- direct, clear, affirming.
Many days and many nights I’d gone for walks like this one, to pour out my soul to God, to wait for Him to speak, but nothing. Here I was again, this time literally wandering in the desert. I was at the Sound of Silence trail at Dinosaur National Monument. I wasn’t in the high stretches of the park anymore but was down in a dried up river bed. The trail didn’t start in a river bed, but somehow I found myself in one. I eventually came to notice no more trail markers. I had taken a wrong turn and lost the trail at some point. That’s okay, I’d turn around.
I made my way over broken shards of red and beige rock, passing by sagebrush and the occasional parched tree. Cloud coverage had moved in, rain threatened, but only let out a brief sprinkle. In my mind, I listed all the misfortunes of my trip so far: the stress of locking my keys in the car, getting reprimanded by a park ranger and being threatened with a ticket, being stuck in White Sands National Monument in a lightning storm, the rock at Indian Davis State Park falling onto my car and denting the hood, breaking my camera, my gum infection, accidently keying the car, my tent being destroyed in the monsoon at Guadalupe Mountains. In retrospect these were petty concerns, none of them had any lasting negative impact, but at the time, they troubled me. Why is misfortune making itself at home with me? I had planned this trip rather meticulously and it was supposed to be perfect. I wanted to be in control. These things were not a part of the plan, and furthermore where was the voice of God in all this? I had expected to hear from God, for Him to bring me to new meaningful realizations, but nothing. I was just left with a handful of misfortunes and the desert around me.
Eventually I found my way back to the trail. It ascended from the river bed to some badland formations, with their intricate sprawling rivets. I wasn’t sure at first If it was okay to climb up onto them, but there was no sign noting otherwise, and when I realized just how hard the rock actually was, I knew I wouldn’t be harming. At the top I sat down. Hills sprawled out before me, after the valley of red earth and spotted bushes. At one point the rounded hill broke open with sharp grey jagged rocks pointing upward, and further down the hilly chain opened to a wider valley. The clouds had mostly cleared except for a few wispy ones which now lingered on a perfectly rich blue sky. I was intentional about stopping here. I’d had enough of my thoughts churning in my mind with not feeling connected with God. I wanted to bring these concerns before Him.
Immediately when I sat down, God unloaded it on me: “Be still. Be calm. Be quiet.” How familiar. God spoke a very similar thing to me, back when I locked my keys in my car. I was quick to recognize the voice of God then, but after I thought it served its purpose I had dismissed it. Here it was again “Be still. Be calm. Be quiet.” It was the same message, except now “be quiet” replaced “don’t worry.” But this was it. This was the message. This is what God needed to speak to me this summer. It wasn’t what I had expected. I wanted conviction or call to action. This was rather the opposite. This was the call to stop, to pause, to heel.
These three statements I would unpack continuously throughout the summer. They have many layers and applications to my life, but in this moment they most poignantly spoke one message to me: “rest.” You see, I had spent so much time coming to God presenting my sense of deficit, unloading my incompetence upon God as if I could humble myself before him to the point of favor, and I waited, almost in a pestering anxiety, for the response of God. I fretted over this. Where was the voice of God? Also, probably in my subconscious at the time, I thought I could praise God for his beauty in creation in an attempt to draw God closer to me, as If I could manipulate Him. Although prayer and praise is extremely important, it was here as if God was pointing out to me, it’s okay to not say anything. Rest in me. Don’t fret about where my voice is. I am here, and I’ve always been here, and you’ve always been with me. And because of me, you are enough. You’re words won’t make me love you more. My love for you is already complete and full. I know your heart, so don’t worry. Be still. Be calm. Be quiet. And just like this an enormous burden was lifted from me. It was this burden that I had in my relationship with God. This burden that my prayers did not suffice, that I wasn’t spiritual enough, that I wasn’t seeking God hard enough, as if my relationship with God was dependent solely on my own efforts. God was teaching me among many things, that silence was alright, and that He was in control.
It was okay to look at his beautiful landscape in nature and not feel burdened, as if I could compensate God for it with fancy rhetoric. More profoundly I learned it was okay to be in the presence of God, fully speechless. God didn’t need my words. He just desired me. He wanted me to find rest in His presence. As a writer I am always searching for the best words to describe things, and I take that word-work mindset before God. What are the best words to place before God to thank Him or praise Him? God was telling me to just be quiet, that He knows my heart, that my words in this moment were meaningless.
So here I quieted my mind. I quieted my thoughts. God embraced me. Because Jesus had restored my relationship with God, and God is so deep in love, I could finally truly rest knowing I was enough in His presence.
Before this evening, every moment of physical solitude, or every stunning vista, brought about a self-imposed pressure to connect God- to lavish on praise, or seek His voice. If I didn’t hear His voice, I felt that something was wrong in my spiritual life. I learned in this moment that just because we don’t hear the voice of God in our lives does not mean God is stepping back from us or we have furthered ourselves from Him. God never leaves us. He is just as present in the silence as He is in the moments He speaks. And furthermore God’s voice is eternal, alive, and always present in his Scripture. In the Bible God speaks to us always. And here, reflecting on this instance in the desert, I’m reminded of how God had already spoken to me this same message in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” My prayers don’t bring about the favor of God. He knows my heart. I can rest in Him.
During the remainder of the summer, and my life there after, when faced with immense beauty in nature, I didn’t feel the pressure to think, ponder, and praise, but instead recognize that in this beauty I was in the presence of God. I could truly be still, calm, and quiet, and rest in His presence. Do I need to continue to work on my relationship with God? Yes, most certainly. Do I need to be in communication with God and seek him in prayer and petition? Of course! But, does God want us to rest in him? Absolutely. If you have troubles, if you seek forgiveness, of course take it before God. If your heart is full of joy and praise in sincerity bring it before God. But when all has been said, does your fancy rhetoric bring about favor or instigate the voice or will of God? I’d venture to say no. Find rest.
Sometimes it’s so hard to find rest because we want clarity in our situations. We want God to speak directly and instantaneously but we overlook that God wants us to trust Him. Our concerns aren’t always resolved in an instant. Clarity isn’t always before us, but here is what we know: God wants us to wait upon Him with patience and full trust. “Trust in the Lord always and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will direct your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6. In that moment when you realize you aren’t in control, you place your concerns before God, and submit to trust, then you can have peace. You can find the will to be still, calm, and quiet. Your mind can put away it’s concerns and you have hope. The hope we have rooted in the Word of God, always proves true. “For those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” The strength that results from our hope in the Lord is a testament to the power and integrity of that very hope.
As I sat up here on the badland mound in Dinosaur National Monument, on the trail appropriately named The Sound of Silence, peace overcame me. My mind did not need to wander through every thought in an attempt to find God’s voice. He was here. I could be still. All of my misfortunes were not to be sifted through for meaning or mourning. It was all on God’s watch. I could be calm. And I didn’t have to continue to wrack my brain for the right words to bring before God. He heard me. I could be quiet. For the first time I learned to rest in God’s presence. Will you find rest in him?
Be still. Be calm. Be quiet.
Read the previous entry “Wildfire at Dinosaur National Monument,” here: https://joshthehodge.com/2020/09/11/wildfire-at-dinosaur-national-monument/
Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here: https://www.amazon.com/Canyonlands-adventures-National-Parks-beautiful/dp/1711397873