Sometimes, the joy truly is in the journey

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Column by David B. Whitlock

I pressed on, hiking about 50 feet in front of Mary, who was straining to keep up. Dave, not in any particular hurry, lagged behind her another 15 yards or so.

“I just know the clearing in the woods was right about here,” I shouted back to my two grown children.

Still unable to find the clearing, I picked up my pace even more, stretching the distance between the three of us.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was beginning to doubt that I could find the place where I had exited the woods a few weeks ago, having chanced upon a small lake that surprised me as much as my intrusion seemed to have startled it from its mid-morning nap. 

I had been on one of my “prayer hikes” in the knobs surrounding Gethsemani Abbey when I found the lake. It was Eden-like in its purity. 

I don’t know how long I sat before it, breathing it in as a heaven sent gift of incense, but when I left, it seemed to smile back, politely thanking me for venerating its sanctuary. But now the lake was playing coy, aggravating me, hiding from me — unwilling to show itself.

Earlier that day, Mary, home for Thanksgiving, mentioned that she and Dave wanted to go with me to Gethsemani for “just a couple of hours.” 

Whenever any of my kids ask if they can accompany me to Gethsemani, I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Of course. Let’s go.”

But then I have to control my excitement for fear I’ll overwhelm them, keeping them there longer than they want, ruining Gethsemani for them.

Driving to the Abbey that day, I thought about when I was just a kid, my older brother Mark practically would beg me to go quail hunting with him, for “just a couple of hours.” Half a day later, I would beg him to “pleeease” take me home.

“I’ve got just one more place for us to try. You’ll love it,” he would say. 

Grumbling beneath my breath, I would follow. And on we would go, searching for the next covey of quail.

“I was afraid this would happen,” I would repeat to myself. 

The birds certainly didn’t fear me; Mark often would giggle at my errant shots, and to this day, he loves to tell of it.

“I didn’t want to kill those birds,” I would defend myself.

“You didn’t have to worry about that; you never came close,” Mark would laugh.

“Dad, I think we’ve gone far enough,” Mary says, in between gasps. I stop and let her catch me. Next Dave saunters into the clearing, joining us in our huddle.

“The lake has to be over there, just beyond those trees,” I say, trying to convince myself.

But to get to the trees, we would first have to cross a dip in the terrain, which is mainly muddy. Mary’s running shoes are no match for the likes of it.

“Just a couple of hours,” I hear Mary’s words from earlier in our day, and they are also my words to Mark, earlier in my life.

Lowering my head in defeat, I start the descent down the knob, guiding us back to the monastery.

Hours later, back home, I offer my apology: “Sorry I didn’t lead us to the lake.”

“Dad, the joy is in the journey,” Dave says, reminding me of words I taught them long ago.

And then over a cup of hot coffee, we relive our hike back to the monastery, recounting the return when I wasn’t in a hurry to show them the ideal scene, when we took our time, stopping here and there, listening while the birds welcomed us as guests in their home.

The ideal place was there all along; I only needed to grasp it.

“Yeah, and besides,” Mary says, “now I have something to look forward to when I come back: We’ll find that lake.”

Maybe that’s what my older brother wanted for me: to enjoy something he loved, to join him on the journey, to want me to want to come back and find more.

Maybe I’ll join him on a hunt next time I’m back home.

I’ll ask him if I can just tag along and not take a gun.

I think I know what he will say: “What difference will it make? You never could shoot anything anyway.” 

David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and author. He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.