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Steps, Breaths and Beats

I often walk out to read on the River Greenway to read during the late afternoons. It’s a brilliant path lined with trees and fields and, at one point, a beautiful little landfill. The landfill is obviously very stinky, and so I typically steer away from that section. There are a few benches on the path in the other direction from the landfill, but I like to go down to the riverbed and sit on a log or in the mud. Some people don’t like to get dirty, but I actually prefer it. (Clean running shoes are ugly running shoes.)

Nonetheless, I avoid the benches to opt for the riverbed. And there’s a certain spot behind a certain bench which I have been favoring as of late. The thing about this spot is that it is about a mile or so walk from the parking lot, but honestly there is no other spot which feels like this spot. I’ve tried other ones, but I always feel like I’m cheating on a girl when I go to them, as though that particular log at which I normally sit knows that I’m at another spot, and it is not happy.

And so I walk to this spot, one step at a time. I’ve thought about parking on the side of the road near the spot, which would eliminate the one-mile walk from the parking lot, but I’ve actually found that part of the enjoyment of the spot is the walk. As I walk I pass numerous couples, mostly older than I, who typically give me a strange look which either says, Yes. It’s a good day for a walk or Please don’t steal my purse. I prefer the former, and I’m used to the latter.

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I’ve been trying to process what it means to follow Jesus. If you believe in God then I think you might find the following thoughts to be true. If you do not believe in God then I believe you will still find the following to have some sort of value.

I used to be really terrible at starting things and not finishing them. If I wasn’t a follower of Jesus then I could easily see myself starting Buddhist practices but then giving up eventually for social or political reasons. I would start books but never finish them. New Year’s resolutions would never take any definitive form. (Although this year’s resolutions have been quite obtainable in many ways.) And so this idea of following Jesus is really quite daunting. Almost silly.

But I would say that recently something has clicked for me which has changed everything. It might be too early to tell if it has really changed everything, but for dramatic literary purposes, let’s both agree that it has changed everything and will one day change the world.

When I was walking on the River Greenway one day, I started thinking about breathing. Why do I take so many breaths? I read that an average person (which, by the way, if you know an average person, please introduce me to him or her) takes 28,800 breaths in one day. Why did God design us this way? Why not one breath per day? One huge inhale. One huge exhale. It seems like it would be a much better design. Much more streamlined.

And the heart beats entirely too many times in one day. 100,000 per 24 hours on average. Again, one big beat per day would seem a whole lot more logical. I’m not saying that I have a better design, but the heart works hard enough as it is. If we could eliminate females in general then my heart could relax much, much more.

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But following Jesus isn’t about arrival, is it? It’s not about crossing a line to get into Heaven. It’s not about obtaining perfection in one moment, but rather it’s a holistic process. A step at a time. A breath at a time. A beat at a time.

This idea carries over into all sorts of areas in my life. I have started to take things in small increments. For the longest time when I would sit down to read a book, and especially the Bible, I would always feel this pressure that if I didn’t read for a half an hour or read five chapters in one sitting, then it wasn’t even worth reading. But I’ve found that one line of beautiful prose is worth every second. One paragraph of Neruda or one thought from Mother Teresa can be stunning. I will walk my mile to my log on the Greenway if only to read one page or one chapter, because that page or chapter may be exactly what I was supposed to read that day.

I think one of the biggest reasons I love photography is because it captures 1/250 of a second at a time. One simple moment without complication.

And in regards to breaking bad habits, it is one step at a time. I think Alcoholics Anonymous have this down to a beautiful science. They know it’s not about cold turkey for most people. Cold turkey is this overwhelming idea which is so heavy that it’s not even worth trying. So instead there are steps, and you take the steps one at a time. You don’t skip from step two to step five if you feel like you’ve got a hang of it, but instead you go through the program, taking each step as a crucial process. Each step is vital.

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Each breath is crucial.

Each beat is deeply important.

This life I live is taken a step, a breath and a beat at a time. I’m not a cold turkey kind of person. It’s not in my DNA. I’m a processor. I have to sit on things for a while and breathe them in. When there are temptations to live outside of the ways of Jesus, then I must remind myself to take one step at a time in the direction of the Kingdom. I don’t think about conquering my vice as a whole, but instead I think of how I am going to get through today with a Kingdom movement, each step being important.

So when I see Jesus saying to His disciples, Follow Me, I don’t see Him saying Arrive now. I see Him inviting them into a journey, full of failures and triumphs. This gives me great hope, hope that I can make it. Hope that tomorrow is going to come, and it will be full of mercy and grace.

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Because it’s not entirely about sitting at my spot on the River Greenway. Part of the enjoyment is the walk from my car to the log, and from the log to the car.

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