My visit to the forest preserve was a kind of pilgrimage. I had not been to Green Valley in over two years. That first time I had come seeking answers for a major decision. This time I had decisions to make, too, but I mainly just wanted to enjoy some time with God in his creation.
Escaping the 90-degree heat, I walked further into the trees than I had gone before (I was prepared this time with bug spray). As I rounded a bend, suddenly I was struck by the thought: I want to meet Jesus here. Not just sense his presence, but see him walking in the forest preserve with me. I paused and swept my gaze through the trees. I longed to encounter Christ in a new way, to be closer to the dear friend I still felt I knew so little.
Then I heard a sound behind me. I glanced back to see a man coming steadily up the path. I didn’t see his face, but immediately I thought, that isn’t Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t be balding or wear a burgundy polo tucked into jeans. As this man passed me another appeared ahead, in a black-and-white-striped shirt. Then a third middle-aged white man passed me. I didn’t make eye contact with any of them. You’re not Jesus, either. I felt a little silly.
But then an even more surprising idea hit me: What if I were Jesus? No, of course I could never claim to be all he is. Yet if I was looking for Jesus on this forest path, maybe the people I passed were looking for him too. Maybe, just maybe, when they looked at me they could see a little glimpse of Jesus. Maybe I would even be one of the few representatives of Jesus they would encounter.
This is a solemn recognition. There is no way I could bear the image of Jesus on my own. I needed, I realized, desperately to remain in Jesus, to be filled and captivated and motivated by him, so I could even begin to represent him to others. I needed to be alert to see and hear and receive from him, however he chose to reveal himself—in creation, in Scripture, in prayer, in the people I encountered. A fresh picture was emerging of my call and purpose.
After this I began to make eye contact with everyone I passed, and to offer some greeting. Who knows what they might be looking for, or what they might see?
Around another bend I paused again, now to watch a chipmunk scurrying through the leaves. I wondered how many humans had actually stopped to attend to, not just glance at, this chipmunk. Still he seemed oblivious to me as long as I stayed quiet. I considered that this animal could live his whole life and never care whether any person listened to him. Yet how many people are crying out daily for someone to pause and attend to them? How many—from those who spill countless words to those who barely open their mouths—are truly listened to as their soul desires?
If I can pay attention to the forest, and even more devote endless hours to considering my own inner discussions, how can I not open myself to listen to and value the people around me? This is a key part of my calling, one precious way I can represent Jesus.
In The Art of Pastoring, pastor David Hansen emphasizes that Christian leaders are to be parables of Jesus. A parable meets people where they are and points to a greater reality. It tells a story about truths others don’t yet know in terms they understand. We cannot show all that Jesus is, and we are not the centerpiece or the goal or the one others should cling to. We are ambassadors for Christ, servants carrying out the will of our Master. And as we focus on him, spend time with him and submit to him, we are transformed into his image. We reflect his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Walking the forest preserve has never led me to all the answers or clarity I crave. Yet it has helped me gain a stronger sense of the purpose I should have wherever I go. I am to abide in my God, so others can see him in me. If my silence, my words, my welcoming gives them some glimpse of Jesus, then I am inhabiting the life to which I am called by love.