Sabbath 4: A word behind

Sightings: A great blue heron flying a few yards past us, the canal towpath in fall colors instead of the familiar spring, a HUGE poison ivy plant, a little boy and his dad fishing in the river, a very crowded and lively book store on a Sunday night.

Learning by heart: Isaiah 30:21

“And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, you shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

It was a delightful autumn afternoon, so we loaded up the bikes and returned to a part of the towpath that I had remembered as particularly scenic. Rick was not disappointed; I gently tossed a few pebbles into the canal and a great blue flapped wings and took off a few yards beyond the photographer.

It’s hard to take a wrong turn when biking here. Going to the left will land us in the river; going to the right will toss us in the canal. There’s only one way to go: straight ahead (or turn around and go back.) But while going straight ahead, I did think about Isaiah 30:21 and what it means to “hear a word behind you.” This is what it does not mean in my experience: God sitting on my shoulder whispering the next step in my ear. I may wish it were that “easy” sometimes, but it’s not.

So what does “a word behind you” mean? Returning to the towpath where I did the 335 mile sabbatical walk, behind me by 2 and 1/2 years, reminds me of the many things I learned, things that God taught me. Much has happened in my life and the life of the congregation in that time. The words I learned that are “behind” me still stand though; I need to pay attention to how they apply in new situations. For example, with the recession, our family’s financial situation has changed significantly. I learned much two years ago on the pilgrimage about traveling lightly. Seems to be “a word behind me” that applies now.

But I also note that my return to learning scripture by heart gives God space to use God’s favorite language with me. It is scripture that I have heard on a Sunday or learned in the past that helps guide the next step when I don’t have a canal and river on either side to do the obvious guiding.

But this is the hardest part: sometimes the next step is so filled with uncertainty, that even after praying, listening and still not knowing, I must take a step anyway, trusting that God will stop me if I am going off in the wrong direction. Often some time later, there seems to be a “word behind” saying, “Yeah, that’s it; you made a good choice. Keep walking.” Must be God’s sense of humor.


  1. I love the way you share your ‘sightings’ and this breathtaking environment!
    I agree, God really does have a sense of humour as I have seen many a time in my own life too. I am excited to see what fun he has planned for your life while you walk with Him in obedience.