‘We’re going on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared!’1
I’ve never been on a bear hunt, but I can only imagine that bear hunts are scary and not every day is beautiful. And we all know, if we’ve read the book, bear hunts contain icky sticky mud, big dark forests, and swirling whirling snowstorms. Should we, as the narrator suggests, choose to tell ourselves that it’s ‘a beautiful day’, or should we face up to the reality that there are treacherous perils in the journey?
Michael Rosen says ‘Yes’.
It is a beautiful day and there are perils.
On another journey the choice of staying at home might appear far more liveable for followers of Jesus who experience attraction to the same sex when the path may look uncertain and unknown. Sometimes this path seems to produce more pain than promise and harm than healing. A path that promises flourishing and fulfillment but is often clouded with the mist of doubt.
Does Jesus promise ultimate joy in our sexuality and singleness in this life or should we expect to continue to yearn for satisfaction as long as we are in this world? Are we suffering cross-carriers or triumphant glorified ones? Is following Jesus a beautiful path or a painful path?
To all of these questions, God answers ‘Yes.’ And Jesus calls out, ‘Follow me!’
How do we enter the ‘Yes’ of God and heed the call to follow Jesus without falling into disillusionment or unbelief?2
I want to suggest three postures to take: Open eyes, open hands, and open hearts.
I have a lot of doggy friends and we often go for a W.A.L.K. There are some doggies, Vegemite the black Labrador is one, who are so doggedly focussed on getting to the park that I’m dragged along like a ragdoll. There are other doggies, Django the Jack Russell is an example, who seem to want to stop every two meters to smell a scent, get distracted by birds, and demand a pat from every human.
When we are brought up believing that there is a part of us that needs to be hidden, with a continued self-talk of shame-driven ‘not getting it wrong’, and a heightened fear and anxiety of being found out, it sets the pathway for white-knuckling through life with our eyes closed. Get through it, don’t mess up, don’t let others know my feelings, make sure that they like me. Being driven by fears can lead us to follow a voice of shame, plaster the unknown with half-truths, and close our eyes to see God’s grace and work in our lives. Like Vegemite, the black Labrador, we pull and tug forward and we don’t pause to smell the fragrance of the roses of God’s presence in our midst.
God’s work can appear in the midst of our sunshine or hail, pain or healing.
So often in my life, I’ve found that I tend to believe God is only present and active on the other side where the grass is greener and I neglect to see that God is currently at work in our own fields. God’s work can appear in the midst of our sunshine or hail, pain or healing. He may be
- Close with you (Psalm 34:18);
- Weeping with you (John 11:35);
- Concerned for you (Exodus 2:25);
- Strengthening you (James 1:2-4);
- Growing your Christ-like resilience and faith (Romans 5:3-4);
- Allowing you to show Jesus to others (2 Corinthians 4:10).
Fear drives us to close our eyes. Faith leads us to ask, ‘God give me eyes opened to see what you are doing in my life’ so that we may begin to see that he ‘is the one who works in [us] both in resolve and in action’ (Philippians 2:12, author’s translation).
When we see and notice God’s work, we begin to have an open-handedness – receiving the tears and the laughter, the wildernesses and the oases, because all of these things are given by God. The poet Mary Oliver wrote,
'I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.'3
When we trust God’s promise that he is working in our lives and open our hands to receive what he’s doing, we can live in
- the grief of the loss of biological family and the joy of the gain of spiritual family;
- the yearning for intimacy and the comfort of intimacy with God;
- the dissatisfaction in our lives and the sufficiency of God’s past, present and future grace;
- the struggle with temptation and the beauty of forgiveness.
We can begin to push against faith-killing fear by stepping out in Spirit-filled faith. A Spirit-filled faith means having Spirit-led eyes, hands, and hearts to experience God in the middle of the wilderness that it may also be for us a sanctuary.
Embracing this tension, we can acknowledge with open-heartedness that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28). Open-heartedness means having a deep, safe, genuine dialogue with God and others in the mess.
This is the same faith and hope that guided our spiritual ancestors as they waded into the messiness of life outside the garden – from Adam to Abraham, Rahab to Esther, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth to the Apostle Paul, Luther to Hudson Taylor. On the precipice of the unknown, without knowing whether or not it was going to be a beautiful day, they held by faith the promises of God and endured in faith in the midst of a fallen world. So with these witnesses gazing at us, cheering us on, the preacher of the book of Hebrews exhorts:
'Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God' (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, may we do the same.
- Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury, We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Walker Books, 2016), p.1.
- I explored some of these themes in my previous post, 'Should We Find Complete Satisfaction Now or Just Keep Calm and Plod Along?'.
- Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early: New Poems (Beacon Press, 2005), p.8.