“Do you see it?”
“There, to the left of that second tree. Do you see it?”
“It’s there. Trust me.”
My father-in-law is an incredible outdoorsman. I swear he’s on a first-name basis with every animal and tree within 50 miles of his house. He sees things at a glance that I don’t see after a full minute of intense staring.
Not long after Brooke and I got married, he invited me to go out into the woods with him in pursuit of wild turkey. As we would drive in the truck to get to wherever we were going, he would point out a solitary deer or a lone turkey on the other side of a 100 acre field as we drove past at 65 mph.
“Did you see it?” he would ask?
Sometimes he would point them out well in advance, aiming his finger to help me establish a correct line of sight. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes I’d pretend and say “sure”, just so I didn’t feel like such a moron.
The pinnacle, though, was the first time he took me bow hunting for deer. We had just pulled onto the edge of a field and were slowly making our way towards a grove of trees on the opposite end. Suddenly he stops and points.
“Do you see it?”
“The deer. Do you see it?”
“I don’t think so” (which really means no, but again, sometimes I get tired of feeling like a moron. I mean, it’s a wide open field, there’s clearly no deer in sight. Apparently I’m missing something).
“Back in the trees. Next to the white oak. Do you see it?”
(What?!?! You think I know what a white oak is? I’m a born-and-raised suburbanite. I can tell you deciduous or conifer, and that’s only because I paid attention in science class!) “Umm...no, I don’t think so.”
“To the left of the fourth tree. Just above the lowest branch. You can see its ear.”
(Okay, stop! Its ear?! Its ear. You’ve got to be kidding me. Those trees are 65 yards away,
there are leaves everywhere, and you saw its EAR?! I’m calling B.S. on this!)
“Okay, let’s take two more steps. Hopefully we don’t spook it.”
The deer explodes from cover...EXACTLY where he had been pointing all along...and takes off deeper into the woods.
WHAT. THE. HECK???
Who is this guy? How could he have possibly known? How could he have possibly seen that?
Over the years that I’ve spent in the woods with my father-in-law, I’ve come to understand that he just see things differently out there. When he’s in the woods, he’s reading an old, familiar, dog-eared book...a close friend that he’s read and reread countless times to the point that he knows it by heart. At this point, I’m not even sure I'm reading a book...it feels more like a word-search. But we’re looking at the exact same piece of land.
He has a way of seeing things that are there for anyone to see.
But it takes practice.
It takes knowing how to look.
It takes knowing where to look.
The prey feels incredibly elusive...in large part because I’m so inexperienced at knowing how to discover, follow, and capture it.
Lately, I’ve realized I have the same learning curve with joy.
For much of the last 6 years, joy has felt just as elusive as wildlife on my first hunting excursions. I couldn’t seem to see it, I had no idea how to track it, and I had zero clue how to hang onto it on the off chance I stumble through the first two steps by accident.
If you read my previous post about my wife, Brooke, and I moving to our new house, you know that our old town house brought me a fair amount of frustration. But there were also moments of joy...and yet that joy often proved difficult to sustain or retain in the midst of the frustrations that just seemed more true.
If you caught Episode 3 on our podcast, you heard the story of Brooke and I pursuing the dream of (and hoping to have) children. And there were and are definitely moments of joy in the midst of those years of waiting...and yet that joy often withered in the face of not-yet-fulfilled hope.
God has been doing amazing things in our lives over the past years as we’ve begun to walk much more closely with him.
But, honestly, a fair amount of that has felt like heartless obedience rather than joyful expectation. Like I’m doing the things that I know I’m supposed to...that I’m being asked to...that I know are good for me...but my heart hasn’t always been fully invested.
Because a fully invested heart just seems ripe for disappointment and frustration...and who wants to feel that?
As I’ve walked many more miles now with my father-in-law, I’ve learned a lot from him about how to see in the woods. As I’ve walked many more miles now in intentional closeness with God, I’m learning a lot from others that have also walked this path of hunting joy. When the I first read Paul’s statement to the church in Phillipi that he had found the secret of contentment in all things, I honestly dismissed it as churchy platitudes. I mean, I’m definitely the kind of person that appreciates a good turn of phrase, but seriously, Paul? It just seems a little put-on, doesn’t it?
Oh, my friends, Paul sees joy the way my father-in-law sees deer through the trees. He knows what he’s looking for, and he knows how to look.
And I’m learning.
As I write this, I’m sitting in our new house. It’s an old farm house that needs a ton of work. I’m surrounded by boxes. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in 2 weeks. My commute has gone from 5 minutes to 55 minutes each way. We still don’t have kids.
And I am so filled with joy.
I drove to work Monday morning and, as I rolled past the hay field near my house and saw deer running in the first rays of the day I couldn’t stop grinning.
And it felt like I heard God whisper into the moment...
“This joy is yours.”
And I saw it. It was just for a moment, but I saw it.
I saw it the way Paul saw it when he said, “I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess...I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Message, Phil 4:10-14)
Turns out that, just like my father-in-law, that old saint knew exactly what he was looking at. The joy had always been there for anyone to notice. He just knew, after a lifetime of learning, exactly where to look, and he knew exactly how to see it.
I still have so many more miles to walk in the woods before I see it the way my father-in-law does.
I still have a lot more joy to hunt before I see it the way Paul does.
But for just one moment, I didn’t have to pretend when my Father asked me, “Do you see it?”
“I think so.”
“Good. It’s there. Trust me.”