While listening to a hiking podcast recently, I heard a thru-hiker (someone who attempts to hike an entire trail) say the following: “I’d rather be more of a lake than a river.” He made this statement after he’d decided to get clean from drugs and alcohol and “to walk toward Jesus.”
When he got to a town in Maine, he got off the trail temporarily and took two jobs. He didn’t commit to either job long-term, nor did he commit to staying in the city. He just found the place to be welcoming, and he liked the idea of storing up some cash for the time being.
As he shared his story, I kept returning to what he said about preferring to be more like a lake than a river. It’s profound.
A lake isn’t in a hurry. Its waves gently lap at the shore, providing one of the most peaceful sounds known to man. Its water is inviting, rather than intimidating. And the local wildlife feel comfortable enough to glide on the surface or just frolic nearby.
A river, on the other hand, is often in a hurry, picking up debris as it goes. It has to get from Point A to Point B. There’s no time for being still. Its surrounding wildlife has to fight against the current if it hopes to not be carried downstream.
The takeaway for the hiker on the podcast, I think, is that he doesn’t want to be forced down trail by the current. He doesn’t want to be rushed without having time for contemplation. He wants to take time to examine, think, smell, hear, listen and touch. Maybe even journal.
Presumably, when you are on the trail, you are always consumed by getting in X number of miles each day, and what you are going to eat when you get there, and how you are going to make your money stretch to the end.
But when you are a lake, you get to stop when you see something. Maybe you are enamored with a bird’s nest that is hanging on a low branch. You can photograph it or examine it from afar as the mother feeds her babies. Or maybe you see a side trail that leads to a beautiful meadow and decide to take it so you can sit among the flowers and enjoy their aroma without having any concern about getting to the next spot on the trail.
Most of life is a river. We’re tied to a clock. We’re expected to meet certain criteria in our work. Our bills come due at the same time every month. Time marches on and pushes us along, no matter whether we want to or not.
That’s the allure of the trail, at least initially. It’s a chance to step out of the current. But from what I hear and read, if hikers aren’t careful, they end up jumping out of one river and into another one. They aren’t tied to a clock any longer, but they are tied to a calendar (you have to finish before winter). They aren’t tied to bills, but they have to be mindful of stretching their money until the end.
So it makes sense that the hiker on the podcast wants to be a lake, at least for now. I don’t know if he is truly seeking Jesus or just the idea of him. But I do know, generally speaking, that it’s difficult to realize that Jesus has been there all along, especially when we are busy rushing from one task to the next, one mile to the next. We need to sit at his feet, not rush to find him.
I’m an advocate of being more like a lake than a river. But then I often end up stepping into the river's current and letting it have its way with me. Yes, bills have to be paid, and I have to make sure to keep up with my responsibilities, but I need to continue to consciously step out of the current and enter the calm, still waters. For as Psalm 23 says, he leads us beside still waters, not rushing waters.