Saturday, April 2, 2022

Tourist or Adventurer

Listen to this devotional on the new podcast Gleams of the Morning.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

A while ago I was stopped at an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I stood at the railing looking at the scenery as a tourist bus pulled up and unloaded. The tour guide gathered the tourists and explained they would be at this stop for an hour or so and people could stay in the parking lot and visit the gift shop. He said anyone who felt more adventurous could follow him up a 3/4-mile trail to a better overlook. He warned that the trail was quite steep and rocky and unpaved most of the way. But he assured his hearers the short hike was worth the better view. I noticed that as the group dispersed only 5 or 6 stayed with the guide to complete the hike.

It's fair to assume that some of the tourists on the bus could not physically manage the trail. But that experience left me wondering why many people choose the easy option when the hard option would be more rewarding. The trope of the tourist is a person who dresses in garish, out of fashion shirts and only goes along the route predetermined for them by the tour company. They are often snobby and privileged and care more for luxury and ease than anything else. The adventurer on the other hand is the polar opposite. They are someone who is bold and daring. They are often thrill seekers but fearless in the face of peril. They don't mind discomfort and are willing to sacrifice for a challenging goal. Compared to the tourist, they are often humble and willing to put themselves in danger to help another person. These tropes are exaggerated and overly simplistic.

But I think there is some truths about humanity in them. At different times we may all act like the tourist or the adventurer depending on how much we desire to achieve a particular goal. Most of us have had some goal we were willing to work very hard for sacrificing much to achieve. Maybe that was completing a degree to trade program, perhaps that was starting your own business, maybe it was losing weight or running your first big race. Maybe it was going on a mission trip. In other areas of our lives though, we have lived as tourist, just going along for the ride. Sometimes we do that with our jobs, or our health. Too often we do that with our relationships. Far too many of us are living that way with our finances right now. We are impulsive and cruise along passively.

When it comes to visiting nature, it is not wrong to be a tourist, so long as you are not snobby or privileged. Sometimes it's nice to have a relaxing vacation with some luxuries. Having adventures in nature have their benefits though. Sleeping on the ground during a camping trip makes you more appreciative of a house and the luxuries it offers. A long hike on a steep trail makes you thankful for cars and planes. Adventures in nature generally help you be more grateful for the simple convenience of modern life. This is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century. It is something that has been known for centuries.

John Muir famously claimed a person could not really know nature without camping. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, his sentiment makes sense more broadly. Can you really know something without getting intimate with it, without getting your hands dirty so to speak? A study I read, found that walking in nature reduces stress levels better than simply viewing nature such as on TV or riding in a car.1 So maybe there is something to the idea that adventures are more rewarding than touristy vacations. A growing body of evidence is showing that engaging with greens spaces is not only beneficial for reducing stress, but also for improving spirituality, specifically feelings of connection, awe, gratitude and compassion.2 Many people report feeling closer to God in a natural setting compared to an urban environment. Maybe there is a deeper reason why churches decorate with flowers beyond simply looking nice.

Another interesting finding is that the health benefits of nature exposure increase with the wildness of the setting.3 In other words, taking a walk in a national park will reduce stress better than walking in your own manicured lawn. Perhaps that is because you have to put in more work to get to the national park. The more work you put into something, the more rewarding and valuable it tends to feel. Putting in some work to get to an overlook, such as by hiking, will probably always feel more rewarding than driving to one. See the show notes for those studies I mentioned.

So where am I going with this? Jesus said that following him was choosing the narrow and winding path. The easy path, he said, leads only to destruction. Have you been living your spiritual life as a tourist or an adventurer? Have you been taking the broad and easy road that leads to destruction, or have you been toiling along the narrow, winding path that leads to life? Have you been letting others guide your way, or have you been blazing your own path looking for the adventure that only a life with God can bring?

Listen, it is ok to be a tourist when you are on vacation. It's ok to be a tourist in some areas of your life. But when it comes to spirituality, you need to be an adventurer. God created adventure! He wants to take you on journeys that will be more amazing than you thought possible. He wants to help you do things you believed impossible. He wants you to follow him through the mud packed, rock-strewn, cliff-edged, sweat-inducing trails of life because he knows it will make the prize at the end so much more sweet. Comfort is ok in our spiritual life. But we cannot stay there forever. God desires to lead us out of our comfort zone. He desires to push us and grow our faith and our character to make us more like Jesus. He desires to lead us to heights and feats we never dreamed of. He doesn't want you to live as a spiritual tourist just sitting in the pew along for the ride. He wants you to stand up and take the path less traveled, the winding, narrow path that leads to life. I will end with this quote. "Rarely does the Holy Spirit lead us down the path of least resistance. You will have to climb a cliff or pick a fight with the Enemy. But you will discover this simple truth: the hard way is the best way." Chasing the Wild Goose, pg 151.

Here’s a question to ponder: Have you been living your spiritual life too comfortably?

By David F. Garner

If you enjoyed this devotional, check out these other ones. 

The Value of Friends

How to Explore Local Adventures