There’s a place near our home that we love to explore. It’s a nature reserve and I try to drag my family out there as many Sundays as they’ll allow it.
This beautiful area is filled with wetlands and birds and wee little critters. Some weeks we have spotted alligators, other times we’ve seen heron. One hike, we came across a deer that had been shot and wandered onto the trail before dying of his wounds. Thrilling for some us, terrifying for others.
One creature I almost never see on our hikes is a snake. I rarely ever see them, and almost every time I’ve spotted one on the trail it has been with my dad or my brother, both trained herpetologists.
A few weeks ago my mom and dad went for a short hike and my dad texted to say there were snakes everywhere.
“Be careful if you hike today,” was his message, “we saw at least ten snakes.”
The next time we went, Paul and I were especially cautious. We warned the boys to be on the lookout, that Papa had seen snakes all over the place. We watched with diligence for the duration of our hike and saw…nothing.
“It’s so strange,” I thought to myself, “how the snakes are never out when we’re there alone.”
Here and there we have seen them, one of the boys spotting one just off the trail. And it was funny the day I realized that the boy who almost always sees these things is the boy who is always looking. Our Augie, he who is always finding money, objets d’art, vertebrates on the hiking trail. He finds things because he keeps his head down in search of them.
Aha!, I finally realized, I bet my dad and my brother are so good at spotting snakes because they are trained to find them! They see them because they know how to look for them.
A few months ago, we were out with the entire Swenson family and just as half of our large group had started across the long bridge over the swamp, my brother Gabe grabbed my mom (who was walking next to him) and pulled her behind him. There, where the first ten members of my family had just walked, was an enormous copperhead snake, mouth hinged open waiting to strike. Or not, maybe he was just watching and waiting for us to pass on by.
Either way, it was shocking and scary. A Herculean snake, just to our right, unnoticed by all — except the person trained to see.
I was thinking recently, in the midst of a (beyond) challenging day, how hard it can be to spot God if we are not in the habit of looking for him. I wonder how often I stumble through my day unaware of God’s presence in my life, especially in those seasons when I have gotten out of the habit of listening for his voice.
Oh sure it’s easy to find God on the good days. We are trained to see his “blessings” — the kindness of a stranger, perhaps, the kiss of a child. A peaceful morning, a day with no trials.
Every good thing comes from God and it’s nice when we remember to thank him for these things.
But on the hard days, in the hard seasons, we can’t forget that God is there, too. Not just in those moments when something goes our way, when we feel a reprieve, when we catch our breath. He is there in the rough patches too, not just holding our hand but drawing us closer to him through the small sufferings and inconveniences of everyday life.
We have to remember to search for the Lord where he will be found — in the beautiful, lovely moments but also in the storm.
“As Walt Whitman said, (in other words),” wrote Carmelite nun Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, “that God is tossing down love letters in the street and everywhere, if only we would watch out for them. I think I have come to see that even the contradictions and the crosses of life are his ‘love letters.”
This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.