Updated: Jun 22
Not having grown up going to church, when we began talking about living by the Spirit recently, I wasn’t sure how to think about what that means. I have always had a sense of God existing around us in nature and through the love of others and now I feel like I’m beginning to be able to explain how God sent his only Son to the world to suffer for us. But the idea that there is this Spirit that Jesus left us as a helper that moves in us and through us like a wind, guiding us, was hard for me to wrap my head around.
Moreover, the idea that we follow the Spirit even though we don’t know where it is leading us and we can’t see beyond the next step I find to be anxiety-inducing. Of course, I find a lot of things to be anxiety-inducing but this feels like a big ask. I’m just supposed to be guided by the Spirit and not worry about the future?
I want to have a plan and make a schedule. I want to know exactly what is going to be required of me so I can prepare accordingly and ace the test. I want to know the right answer. I want to know what is going to happen, especially right now. I really want to know what the world is going to be like in a week or in a month or in a year.
I was recently watching a nature documentary with my kids. In it, there was a segment on Arctic terns. Arctic terns have always been one of my favorite birds. I spent a lot of time in the United Kingdom growing up and you can see them there during the summer along the shoreline.
They hover in the air about a hundred feet up, their sleek form like a cut-out in the blue sky (or more often gray, because it’s England), their sharp beaks pointed down, their eyes scanning the water. And then, when they spot a fish, they fold their wings and drop like an arrow. They plunge in and then emerge with their prey in a spray of water just a second later. It’s an incredible feat to watch.
Even more incredible though, is that Arctic terns engage in the longest migration of any animal on Earth. They travel from pole to pole and back every year. Animal migration is astounding. I can't fathom how something that small, let alone a hummingbird or a butterfly, could know when or where to go. I don’t think I could navigate without assistance from here to Austin but they somehow travel thousands and thousands of miles.
Animals use their sense of temperature, length of daylight, and abundance of food supply to know when to leave their wintering or summering grounds. And amazingly, they can use landmarks and even constellations to help them navigate. But don’t they worry? How do they not feel the need to plan out their trip? To pack ahead of time? What if something goes wrong?
But they just go when they sense that it’s time. And they start with one step (or one flap of the wings). And then they take the next one after that. Trusting in their senses and instincts to guide them.
It’s a temptation, I think, to worry about the future. To feel like we are somehow in control or should be and that somehow worrying about things will help us be better prepared. Because we can never be perfectly prepared and we will never be enough for what is ahead. But we can ask for help from the Spirit to guide our feet for our next step along this path that we are traveling. And we can ask for help to give us what we need when we get there.
I’m going to try this week to hone my own sense of the movement of the Spirit through prayer. To listen to the wind for when and where I should go next and to focus on this step only and not the ones in front. To let go of my anxiety about needing to know what's coming. To follow the Spirit like the terns.
Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family Ministry