In which a bear interrupts my angsty soul-searching

August 19, 2015 | Bethany Cok

A couple weeks ago, I opened up my email inbox and found, along with the usual mishmash of Pinterest and Expedia emails, a message from Dave Degler of ACMNP.

I glanced at his email for about ten seconds before my shift at work, just long enough to read the subject line and skim the contents. It was an encouragement to all of the ACMNP team members to set aside some time in the next week to take care of our souls, through hiking or praying or fishing or whatever we thought would be beneficial, and to let him know how we were blessed during that time.

Not a bad idea, I thought. But I’ll definitely forget about this. And what kind of exciting stories about soul-reflecting are they expecting anyways?And I started my typical last-minute racewalk to work without giving it another thought.

Fast-forward a few days. I had just finished a pretty long shift at work and needed some time alone, away from the crowds of guests hurdling mops, brooms, and buckets of chemicals in an attempt to enter my closed bathrooms (I’m a janitor, and it’s an exciting life). I decided to walk over to Mirror Lake with my Bible and my journal, and on the way, I remembered Dave’s email, and figured I might as well make this my intentional time looking at the state of my soul. 

The path to Mirror Lake runs alongside the Merced River, and a ways down the path I decided that I’d just sit alongside the river instead of walking all the way to the lake, which was usually crowded with tourists anyways. I climbed down the bank and realized that, if I was willing to do a few acrobatic moves, I could make it out to a rock near an island-type strip of land in the middle of the river.

Of course, once I realized that, I had to climb out there. So I buckled my backpack on and ventured out across a log, swinging my arms for balance as I jumped from the log onto my chosen rock. I sat down, pulled out a Clif bar, and took a few minutes to just breathe, listening to the sounds of the river, whipping out my bug spray and squirting it all over myself once I realized just how many mosquitos also liked my chosen location.

And I started to think and pray and write. I had been pretty sure that my soul was doing fine, but I realized that there was a lot more on my mind than I had thought. I started to write it all out: my worries about my family, friends back in Michigan, the unity of our ministry team, my coworkers. It started getting pretty angsty.

Everything boiled down to this one question, I realized. What is the purpose of my being in Yosemite this summer? And I got really worried that I was “missing my purpose,” that I wasn’t being intentional enough or Jesus-y enough or wasn’t caring about things that really mattered. And just as I was in the middle of this deep conversation with God about how I was frustrated with my lack of answers and lack of clarity…

There was a bear.

Not a bear far off in the distance. A bear on the riverbank maybe 20 feet away from me. And, of course, I was still eating my Clif bar. Whoops.

So I did what everyone tells you NOT to do and just ignored it. And thankfully, it ignored me and lumbered away. But I decided I needed to get off that rock, because I had myself pretty well cornered.

One problem. I had lept a couple feet down off the log to get onto the rock, and as I am not a flying superhero, I could not reverse the maneuver. So I had to hop across some slippery rocks and nearly fell into the river before I reached the bank.

I decided to walk the rest of the trail to Mirror Lake and sat down by the edge of the water, looking back in my journal where the bear encounter had stopped my writing mid-sentence.

The last thing I’d written was, “I don’t have answers or solutions or any of that crap.” (I wasn’t in a very formal mood.)

And then there was a bear. And I laughed at myself, sitting on the edge of Mirror Lake, feeling the breeze blow through my hair and hearing a line from a Psalm run through my head.

Be still, and know that I am God.

And I realized that maybe a bear was all the answer I needed for that day. 

Because sometimes God surprises us in the middle of our angsty soul-searching and reminds us that we are here for more.

I am here, this summer, to do more than ask why I’m here. To do more than worry about my purpose, or get stuck in my own thoughts. 

I am here to live deeply. To appreciate the beauty that’s around me each day. To marvel at the stars and the sunrises, to love the people around me and be thankful for everything that pulls me closer to the God who created us all.

And sometimes it takes a bear to remind me that I don’t control any of this. This ministry isn’t about what I can do. This summer isn’t about what I can do. It’s about the work of a God who is so much bigger, who has plans that are so much bigger than anything I could ever dream up. 

So in the middle of my angsty soul-searching, I can’t help but laugh and remember that He is God, the God of questions and answers and bear sightings and everything in between.

"The most important thing that I learned this summer was to project the imago dei and to recognize it in others and embrace them for who they are."
– Brett, Princeton Theology Seminary 2011

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