When my wife planned to visit a friend for a night, I decided to head out into the wilds of Pennsylvania. I grew up camping with my family, including a six-week, cross-country trip when I was eight: from PA to Oregon, up to Calgary, back across Canada, and down from Toronto. But it has been a decade since I have pitched a tent.
It was overdue.
I need the clarity that I get from an open road. As I drive this morning, the heavy fog dissipates with the rising sun. That’s a nice picture for what transpires in my mind and soul as I settle into a meditative conversation with Jesus.
My scripture today is like a map for the journey:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:20
In context, Jesus is promising his presence to the disciples as they go out to do the work of spreading his kingdom. That’s important: though he is always with a believer (through the inner dwelling of the Holy Spirit), we experience his presence more when we seek to do his will and work.
This drive must be as much about listening as it is about prayer. Road trip conversations should be two-way roads.
So, we have our give-and-take. At the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, I give Jesus praise for the magnificent landscape. He shares with me his pleasure in the good of his creation -- even for the turkey vultures, so elegantly riding updrafts.
In the car, I ask what he would have me do in the upcoming meeting of young Creatives I lead. In the contemplative silence that follows, a perfect idea forms in my mind. I know that it is given to me. Jesus speaking.
At the campground, I warm up a significant dinner. During that family trip I mentioned, my mother cooked for six of us every night on a Coleman camping stove. Looking back, it’s an incredible feat. One that would have intimidated even Julia Child. Mom’s fail-safe in a pinch was to open cans of beef stew.
My meal tonight is home-made – a step up from Dinty Moore. (But heated in my mother's actual camping cookware from that trip.) But it is a tangible reminder of Mom's love – and that weaves into the tapestry of God’s provision and care for me. The stew is made more savory by deep gratitude.
Later, I build my campfire. I sit for a while with a mug of tea as the sun sets. The stars above slowly awaken.
Lighting my lantern, I read the verse again: I am with you always. I wonder how often I’ve taken this promise for granted. When I’ve assumed Jesus would be near whenever I got around to turning to him. How often have I overlooked his kindnesses, his purposes, his words directed to me from Scripture?
It’s why I need trips like this. And daily, devotional stillness.
Sometimes, it takes solitude to notice one’s true Companion.
Lord, thank you for your promise to always be with us. Too often, in our busyness we fail to recognize you by our side. Teach us, moment by moment to hear your voice.
Reader: When has time alone made you very aware of Jesus’s presence? Tell me about it.