There’s a Dr. Doolittle in all of us
The world is the Lord’s and everything in it. (Ps 24:1) Subsequently, things that we observe in nature can teach us about God. And as a part of that creation, we can learn things about ourselves as well. It is not a mystical worship of the creation itself. Rather, like the painting is an expression of the painter and the song is an expression of the composer, God has made the world in such a way that its order, function, and appearance express and reveal things about the Creator. If only we are willing to take the time to cast a lingering gaze and consider its wonder.
During the tough stuff is when we often draw close to God, keeping a more open ear and sensitive heart toward any wisdom or encouragement He may offer us. The verses found in Job were during a most distressed part of his life. Sounding akin to an ancient Dr. Doolittle, Job declares: “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10
In April of 2015, at 50 years of age, my husband and I decided it was time for us to take a hike across Spain. Well, mostly my husband decided, but I wasn’t about to let him walk it alone. Our reasons and experiences are too many to explain in a simple blog, but the very first lesson of that arduous journey was probably the most memorable.
Our first leg took us from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Roncesvalles, Spain. It was 27 kilometers - roughly 16 miles. Sounds doable until you realize that takes you up one side of the Pyrenees Mountains and down the other. The day was pain-filled, with hours of fatigue and regret interrupted by views of inexpressible beauty that would then give way to emotional highs. This was the psychological roller coaster I would ride for the next 43 days of a 500 mile journey.
That first day of getting over the Pyrenees was inarguably the hardest. About 2/3 of the way up, the air was significantly thinner. My desperation grew to an all-time high as my legs became noodles and my lungs began to burn. With every 20 steps of progress I would stop, turn and face back down hill from where I had come. It was a temporary relief from the constant up-hill tension on my calf muscles. I stood there as waves of self-loathing flooded over me. Doubt-filled questions hounded me like the black dog. What was I thinking? What had I gotten myself into? Was I even going to be able to do this? Chris was able to go a bit further between rests so our side by side words of encouragement to one another had come to an end. Each of us had to face our struggle independently and find the intestinal fortitude to make it up the rugged mountain side.
The adrenaline of the morning had waned and prayer began to fill the afternoon. Glimpses of awe inspiring valleys and wildlife were like wind in a sail that kept this old ship going forward. 50 yards… and rest. 10 yards… and rest. 15 more steps…and rest. Completing a climb around one bend only to see an even steeper incline ahead…and rest. At the height of my discouragement, I threw off my pack, laid my trekking poles down, and considered having myself a good cry. Thankfully, that was just a passing thought. Chris and I kept a visual on one another, but at my dreadful pace I thought surely we would not make it off this mountain. The possibility of being stranded outside all night crept into my mind. In that moment, I needed God to speak to me like never before.
As I sat there, over the ridge came an amply-sized wild stallion. Several mares followed him at a distance. The path was so well traveled by pilgrims that those wild beasts who laid claim to the mountain were accustomed to us. They were quite docile and would actually come very close. Too close for Chris’ comfort, but in an almost playful amusement at these little humans that traversed their lands.
As I picked up again and continued upward, I watched this remarkable animal make his ascent along side me. And it was quite striking. These enormous beasts of burden, with sweat dripping down their hind quarters, made their way up the mountain in much the same way as I. Muscles bulging, this majestic stallion zig-zagged back and forth amongst the rocks for a distance of about 20 yards. He would stop, lift his flared nostrils high into the air and give several loud guttural snorts. Then turning a backward glance, as though he was taking head count of his band behind him, he would rest a few more moments, lower his head and press on for another 20 yards or so. He repeated this pattern over again and again. Back and forth across the stoney sod more or less mirroring my own movements over the unforgiving terrain. And yes, I too had a few guttural snorts of my own.
At the realization of the striking similarities between I and this beauty, a tremendous peace came over me. Even this ferociously strong animal, who navigates this mountain daily, was making his journey with the same plan of attack as I. Suddenly, I felt less incapable. I didn’t feel quite so much like the odd man out. This was how it was supposed to be. It’s how great accomplishments are completed. Often slow, difficult and demanding rest along the way. My journey for the day was only half over at this point. But now feeling that things were indeed moving in a normal progression, the weight of defeat evaporated from my shoulders. I gained strength from simply knowing that God had indeed given me the ability to do this. The lies of Satan, that this was impossible, had no other recourse but to flee from my mind.
Cresting the peak later than we had anticipated, the descent into Roncesvalles also seemed never ending at times. My body traded in the burning calves for aching knees. But the imagery of those horses never left my mind. And much to our delight, Chris and I did make our destination before the sun disappeared completely.
Did God direct that mighty steed’s path to intersect mine? Did God know at what exact point my frustration would set me down on the grass? Was that wild horse as keenly aware of me as I was of him? Moments of inspiration can give rise to questions for which there is no definitive answer. But one thing I did know for sure: “In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
And maybe Dr. Dolittle really wasn’t that far-fetched at all. We can walk with the animals and talk with the animals. For even the lowly animals know what the hand of the Lord has done. Learn from them.
And Happy Trails!