And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.
Everyone’s lives goes through their ups and downs. During one of my down periods, I had this feeling like I’m hiking on a trail through a beautiful forest alone. All of sudden, the forest gives way to a breathtaking snow-covered mountain. I’m already tired from the hike and the high altitude. It seems that climbing the mountain is what I’m supposed to do, even though I’m tired and I don’t really want to. In my mind, I think, the destination must be on the other side, so I’ll just climb this mountain, go down the other side and be done. As I struggle to climb the mountain, as it gets steeper towards the top, I am exhausted, but exhilarated. Soon I’ll be at the top, then it’s down the other side and done. As I get to the top, as I touch the summit and look out to what I’m sure will be the destination on the other side, I feel instantly deflated. Because as I look out from the top of the mountain, I see an entire range of mountains in front of me. I have climbed merely the first one. I’m already tired, exhausted from the journey up this mountain, and how many more mountains now stand in front of me. I can’t even see the destination, only a lot more mountains to climb, and to make it even harder, I don’t feel like I have the energy, and on some level, even the interest.
Do you ever feel like this? I do. I feel it a lot, and an increasing amount as I get older. When you are very young, you are strolling through the forest, walking a gradual climb, unaware of what is ahead. Then you see the first mountain and are excited for the variety, and the view. As I get older, I’m in the middle of the mountain range. I can no longer see the forest I initially walked through. I can’t even see the first mountain anymore. I still have no idea where the last mountain is. I have no idea if I’ve climbed the highest one or is this just going to keep getting harder. I question that. A lot. I wonder where this trail ends. I wonder that a lot.
But here’s what I’ve resolved in my mind. I’m going to keep walking. I’m going to keep focusing on the path. My Spiritual Father said to me that God has provided each of us with a path to sainthood. There are as many paths as there are people. So I will try to not give into the temptation to envy people who might be on easier paths. Because I have to walk my path, and who knows, maybe their path will end up harder than mine.
The choice to walk, the choice to focus and the choice to not be envious of the paths of others are just that—they are choices. And obedience to God works in the same way. It’s also a choice. People have to come to a place in their own soul, probably more than once in life, where they just resolve to keep on walking, to stay obedient and true to God regardless of how tired we feel, or how long the journey might be, or how many challenges we have to overcome on it, or how many times we reach a mountain top only to suffer a setback. I don’t know exactly why God allows things to happen to me and to others. If I did, however, there would be no such thing as faith. Faith and trust involve knowing but not fully knowing, and trusting and obeying to cover the part we just don’t know.
Joshua 24:24 is a great rallying cry for the one who is exhausted but still has many more mountains to climb. It is a great rallying cry for the one who has been walking for a long time but for whom the end is not in sight yet. “The people said to Joshua,’The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.’” In other words, “I will choose God and I will choose to listen to and obey His voice. And if that voice says ‘There is another mountain to climb today, so I’m just going to keep on walking, obediently, and if I can’t manage to have joy in this, at the very least I will choose obedience.
We can choose to obey even if we don’t understand. We can use our gifts and walk our paths, and not spend (or waste) time and effort wondering why we didn’t get different gifts or a different path in life. And if we are using our gifts, whatever they may be, and walking our path, as best we can, how can God or anyone else expect anything more? Remember that obedience is a choice, and it’s a choice we can make at any and all times, irrespective of how hard the path we are walking down is.
Lord, I have cried to You; hear me. Hear me, O Lord. Lord, I have cried to You; hear me. Give heed to the voice of my supplication when I cry to You. Hear me, O Lord.
Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Hear me, O Lord. (Great Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes—this hymn is sung at every Vespers service in the Orthodox Liturgical year)
Personal Reflection Point: What gifts do you have that help you to best serve the Lord?