The Christian life is a lot like taking a walk at dusk.
If you ever spend time outside in the evening, you know that just as the sun sets, a gentle glow surrounds the tree tops. I’ve always loved this glow, but I recently discovered that I had never experienced it in the full sense until I moved to a place with actual trees.
The sky, usually a bold mix of pinks and oranges at this point in the sunset, becomes the backdrop for trees that have descended almost completely into shadow. They are no longer made up of long brown trunks and fluttering green leaves. Instead, the trees have become towering silhouettes, reaching up into the slowly-fading blaze of the sunset.
Obviously, the trees aren’t actually glowing. I know the earth is rotating, creating an illusion that the sun is sinking in the sky. As the sun “sets”, there is no longer direct light on the trees and so they appear dark. The contrast between the black tree shadows and the bright sky is what makes the illusion of this glow that I love.
If I time my evening walks or jogs correctly, I can be surrounded by this evening glow. However, this glow coincides (in North Carolina, at least) with the exact time that frogs begin to reemerge from wherever they hide during the heat of the day. On a good night, there is a frog at least every twenty or thirty feet lining both the sidewalks and the asphalt of the road.
You are probably wondering how this is related to Christian life at all. Bear with me.
As I traverse the sidewalks of my neighborhood, I have to avoid the frogs. They do not seem to me to be very intelligent creatures, and many times my foot will be in midair before a frog decides to move out of the way.
Despite the frogs’ severe lack of self-preservation, I do not want to step on them. They are harmless, gentle, and rather adorable. So, I use a flashlight, I take loud steps, I try to watch where I’m going.
Still, sometimes my foot makes contact with a frog in spite of my best efforts. To my knowledge, I have not stepped on a frog or caused a frog’s untimely demise. However, I have nudged many, and even once (accidentally) kicked one an impressively far distance. It hopped away, dazed and frightened.
Many people throughout the history of Christianity have referred to Christian life as a walk. If you eavesdrop in a church – a practice that is surprisingly hard to avoid – you’ll hear this metaphor invoked quite regularly.
Imagine with me if you will, then, that you are taking an evening walk. If you’re lucky, you’re out at the perfect time, and you get to see the glow of the trees at dusk. You understand the reason for this glow, but still you marvel at it when you are fortunate enough to see it. The glow holds your gaze and your steps begin to slow.
Suddenly, your foot nudges something soft. You reluctantly tear your eyes away from the enchanting glow down to where you felt the contact. You see a small figure, moving quickly away from where you have stopped. The frog lets out a frightened croak as it hops out of your path, and you suddenly feel incredibly guilty.
Such is the life of the Christian. We are so often encouraged to turn our gaze heavenward. We lift our eyes to the hills, from whence our help comes. We contemplate the glow, and the world around us fades into the shadows.
And yet, our feet are still moving. There is still so much going on below the glow, and we so often ignore it in favor of looking up. As we get caught up in the glow, we forget to look down at all, and we end up doing a lot of harm, nudging, kicking, and even squashing living beings under our clumsy weight.
This isn’t what we mean to do. Our eyes are fixed on something beautiful, something mysterious, and we want to see as much as we possibly can. But taking this kind of distracted walk is irresponsible. This kind of walk can wreak havoc. This kind of walk can be deadly.
But Christian, don’t worry. This isn’t the only kind of walk we can take. We must walk, no matter what, but we can also prepare. We can bring along our flashlights, we can take loud steps and, most importantly, we can watch where we are going.
Where can we get a flashlight? How can we take loud steps? What if we miss the glow completely with our eyes glued to the ground?
We have to remember that the dark sidewalk is not as uninteresting and useless as we think. Looking at our feet reminds us that we are still walking, and that we are not the only ones making use of the sidewalk.
When I first started taking walks here, I nearly broke my ankles trying to avoid crushing frogs. I ended up walking with my head down and my eyes peeled every night, and I missed the glow that I set out to see in the first place. I began to wonder if I should walk at a different time, when there was more light and fewer frogs.
Then, my eyes began to adjust. I could still see the glow, but I would glance down often. I got better at predicting when and where the frogs tended to congregate. Eventually, I could even turn off my flashlight when I was able to make out the outline of the frogs even in the dim light. I still occasionally nudge one, but I am relatively confident in my ability to walk in the dark without stepping on a frog.
We have to be better at multitasking on our walks. We still need to watch the glow, but we also cannot trample the frogs under our feet. We may need to use the tools we brought along to prevent any damage until our eyes adjust, until we learn to glance down at the right times, and until we can walk with the confidence that no frogs will be crushed as we gaze into the glow.
The good news is this: the perfect walk has been modeled for us. This perfect walk not only shows us how to do it ourselves but also ensures that when we fail to walk perfectly, there is grace. When trip on cracks in the sidewalk, there is grace. When we kick a frog, even when we do it on purpose, there is grace.
The walk doesn’t last forever. Some walks are longer than others, some harder. Some walks are straight uphill, others slope gently down. Some are fraught with frogs, leaves, branches, or worse.
The Christian life is a lot like taking a walk at dusk. When the walk is finished, though, we will no longer have to look down. We will be able to gaze into the glow for eternity. And, if we learn how to walk well and share the sidewalk, the glow will be accompanied by a beautiful chorus of softly croaking frogs.
Grace and peace,