As I was walking the trail this morning, this is what I found. . . the wind had taken down this tree overnight. It deposited it right in the path where bikers, joggers and walkers traverse. Since it’s so cold there was no traffic, but it got me to thinking about how seemingly out of nowhere, roadblocks pop up and are planted right in our path.
In ministry, it has occurred to me many times, that once we get some real momentum going in our parishes, when we are moving to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit, when we are growing spiritually and numerically, then something comes along to steal that peace. Some issue, real or perceived, rears its snarly head and seeks to disrupt the flow of things. It’s easy to get anxious and upset about these roadblocks. It’s human nature to try to squash them, to keep them from taking control. It’s less easy to see options available to us in these times.
That tree on the ground did not prevent my dog and me from continuing down the trail we tread each day. We certainly had options. We could over it. We could go into the woods and around it. We could turn back and head home if we wanted to; we had choices we could make. We didn’t just stop there and look at it, at a loss as to what we might do now that something had changed in our normal routine.
Perhaps roadblocks are blown into our lives to see how creative and resilient we can be. They test our fortitude and our vision. They force us to decide.
There is one more option that I could have taken with that tree branch. I could have picked it up and moved it off to the side, without violence, without malice, without anger. Then the path would be clear again for the next travelers, but you know- in the moment I didn’t think of that. I was too busy looking at it and taking a picture of it.
That tree was a gift for you. It stimulated thoughts that would not have been given if your walk had been ordinary, unfolding according to your assumptions or expectations. As a loner you and your dog were able to let the barrier walk with you in your thoughts (the end result was a fresh pool of ideas about roadblocks or obstacles).
I think of how you would have responded differently if you had been trekking with a group. The possibilities would have been varied, depending upon the temperaments of the followers. What if there had been discord and debate about what to do next? What if everybody was physically able to simply leap over the barrier? What if some people were differently abled with walkers or wheel chairs?
Think also about the surrounding atmosphere and how that affects our response to barriers. As it was, it was chilly, but generally a benign situation. But, what if a storm was brewing and other trees were on the verge of falling? What if you were being chased by a coyote?
It is interesting how anxiety alters our perception of a barrier. When we are calm and collected we perceive roadblocks as opportunities to pause and figure out how to proceed or what detour might be equally interesting (and might actually be a delightful byway). In many ways the barrier becomes a friend!
But (oh my!) when our emotions are ratcheted up or incited by communal worry or frustration, the size and scope of the barrier grows far beyond its reality. It becomes a gargantuan adversary.
Perhaps in congregational settings it would be helpful to gather together our team of leaders and practice some trekking in different situations. Maybe the leader could even go out beforehand and “prepare the trail,” including providing some roadblocks and barriers, just to see how the group responds to them.