My husband and I went hiking last weekend with another couple. As we drove to the state park near the Catskill mountains in Upstate NY, the day was slightly chilly and somewhat overcast. It was just past the most colorful days of autumn, but a handful of brilliant gold, orange, and crimson leaves still clung to the branches.
Starting our hike in a light-hearted mood, we chatted amongst ourselves, catching up on all the news. We had to be careful of our footing since the leaves covered the path thickly, obscuring rocks and roots that were typically easy to avoid. I wore the wrong footgear, and my feet were soon soaked. The uncertain temperature caused us to don our light jackets in the shady valleys, just to pull them off again as we climbed a hill.
After a long and somewhat challenging hike, we climbed the last incline, dawdled through a field of goldenrod and finally approached our vehicle in the gravel parking lot. Our friends, who had reached their physical limit, were relieved to be finished and as the dimness of the late afternoon increased and the damp wind picked up, we all started thinking fondly of home and an early, hot dinner. My husband reached in his coat pocket for the car keys. I could read his face clearly as he started patting down all his pockets. Oh. Dear.
After a few additional moments of frantic fumbling, my husband realized that the keys to our vehicle must have fallen out of his windbreaker at some point. He quickly started the search for the missing keys by heading back into the woods from which we had recently emerged, while I apologetically escorted our friends to a pavilion where they could shelter. Then I began searching the trail from our initial starting point.
As I entered the forest, I soon realized what a job it might be to locate our wayward keys. The thick, fluffy blanket of leaves covered the trail—a dizzying kaleidoscope of color. It wouldn’t take much for the keys to be completely hidden, but even if they lay on top of the leaves, they would be tough to spot.
Meticulously scanning from one side of the path to the other in the pre-dusk light, I found myself becoming slightly mesmerized by the fallen foliage. I entered a kind of timelessness. Normally concerned about wild animals, as well as maniacal killers who lurked in the forest, I never hiked without a companion. Now, not only was I alone, but I hadn’t even brought my cell phone. Yet for some reason, I wasn’t uneasy. And I started to see my current situation as a metaphor.
The hike itself could be likened to my spiritual life up until recently. Like the active, challenging, and stimulating part of our hike, my relationship with God and my prayer life had been lively and varied. I committed my life to Christ as a young person, and as a wife and mother of five, I had continued living my life as a faithful, practicing Catholic.
Over the course of the years, I experienced the ups and downs we all face as human beings—distress and various trials alongside joy and fulfillment. As my body and mind went through myriad changes, my spiritual life had highs and lows as well. Though I engaged in mental prayer frequently, I had always lacked discipline. A homeschooling mom, much of my spiritual life centered around my children as I helped them learn to pray from the heart and understand what it means to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.
When my youngest child left home for college, I came to the end of that brisk, rigorous “hiking experience.” My husband and I were both ready for a major change and, since none of our children lived nearby, we prepared for a major move. My husband had resigned from his job, and we were metaphorically ready to jump into our new (non-metaphorical) SUV to cruise the roads of life, following wherever the good Lord would lead us.
So, you might ask, what did the loss of our car keys and our subsequent search symbolize? An unexpected and unwelcome grinding halt to our momentum. Although ready for something new, it wasn’t yet clear to us what our “new mission” was.
We thought the answer would come quickly, but we found ourselves in a period of waiting and searching.
One intriguing aspect of the unnatural stillness of my life during this period of waiting was a growing need to “go deeper” with God. Something about this process of “going deeper” reminded me of the surreal search I was experiencing as I looked for our keys on the hiking trail.
I had been trying to respond to this movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened to you,” had become a theme of the past months.
Though I am experiencing this time of transition alongside my spouse, like the hunt for our keys, it is also a private time between me and the Lord.
I am searching for a deeper intimacy with Him. He is calling me to have confidence in Him so that I will find what I am looking for and that he has new insight and gifts to give me which will enable me to do my part in our new mission.*
I am slowly and carefully scanning my life, my options, and my habits.
I am trying to listen to and follow His voice.
I do not want to miss what He was doing in my soul because of my desire to know “what is next.”
As I moved toward the end of the three-mile hiking trail, regardless of the odds of finding our keys, I tried to practice expectant faith. “Of course we would find the keys,” I said aloud. I thanked the Lord in advance and sang little songs of praise.
When it comes to confidence in God, St. Therese of the Little Flower said, “We can never have too much confidence in the good God…As we hope in Him so shall we receive.” I felt that my confidence in finding the keys represented my confidence in God’s promise to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. To take me to the next level of my spiritual journey and lead me and my husband to a new mission.
I found the keys near the end of the hiking trail.
I knew I would.
Yet amid the knowing, the doubt had lurked in the background, waiting for the chance to assert itself. Back at the darkening pavilion, our friends laughed with (slightly hysterical) relief, saying, “Honestly, we never thought you would find them!”
I know that I will find God’s new mission for me as well.
As I take the time to seek Him, He will show me how to draw closer to him. I reject doubt and claim what is mine as a beloved daughter of God—greater intimacy with the Father, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. The next time we are missing our keys, we may or may not be able to find them, but we will never be disappointed when it comes to asking for more of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
God wants to show each one of us how to “go deeper;” how to seek and find. It is an ongoing journey, and while no two persons experience is the same, we all have the potential to be transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). I am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for my spiritual growth. I know it will equip me for Love’s next adventure.
*I have found several ways to “seek” after what I feel the Lord is showing me during this period of waiting and preparation. Two of the most impactful decisions I have made are to have a set time of prayer each morning and to start meeting with a spiritual director, who has helped me develop concrete ways to grow in virtue. I have also taken two classes with the Avila Institute.