This past weekend my family went hiking. For those of you who hike with kids, you know the value of a game on the trail to help keep things motoring along. We have played countless games of “I’m going on a trip and I’m going to bring…” While there are some redeeming aspects to this particular game, i.e. coming up with creative objects, practicing intentional listening, and flexing the memory muscle in the brain, it is not my favorite. “Twenty questions” is good for about four rounds, and you have to be able to hike near enough that you can hear all of the questions and corresponding yes or no answers. “The name game” is another good one, but presents challenges when mutliple generations play together. It is based on the names of famous people. When last I participated in this with my kids, I spent half the time trying to think of famous people that both of us would know.
Upon the suggestion of a friend of mine, we tried something new on our weekend hike. We tried to memorize a passage of scripture as we walked along. I had my tiny TNIV, the one whose days are limited as I head into the mid-40’s and may soon require reading glasses to make out the fine print. That day has not yet come, so the cute green leatherbound book was perfect. I could hold it in my hand and hike, passing it around to various family members as we worked on Psalm 23. I would like to tell you that it went over as well as our usual trail games, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some push back. Nevertheless, we persisted in repeating phrases and practicing them as we headed to Boulder City (an old mining town nestled in an alpine circ in the Boulder mountains, about half an hour from our home.)
I can’t speak for my kids, but I learned how scripture comes alive in new ways when you keep repeating it. New things are noticed. What I thought was familiar and had nothing more to teach me surprised me with unexpected insight. For example, I had never noticed the progression of intimacy in Psalm 23. It begins with the shepherd being called “Lord”, and then moves to “He”, and finally to “You.” The intimacy of “You” comes after the phrase “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for You are with me.” Those dark valleys draw us closer to God.
At one point in our group memorization process, one of the kids was repeating the darkest valley part from memory and said, “Even if I walk through the darkest valley.” We all noticed that there is no “if” in this phrase. The phrase reads, “even though I walk through the darkest valley.” The dark valley is not a hypothetical, it is a reality. It will happen. That too, was unexpected insight. To be able to share the truth that dark valleys will come, but God is there in the midst of them is something that I hope will last in the memory banks of my family.
The final image I will share is that of sheep. I love sheep. We have a regular sheep fesitval in my town where these animals come parading through the streets as they head back south for the winter. Sheep like to follow. Once you get a few going, the rest will follow. At the end of Psalm 23, there is mention of following but the thing that does the following is not the sheep. It is “goodness and love.” “Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Like sheep, God’s goodness and love will follow ME. What an interesting twist. The Psalm begins with us following God like sheep and ends with His love following us.
Last night at dinner, I checked to see if the kids still had it memorized. They did. Admittedly, they may not jump at the opportunity to memorize scripture on our next hike, but I hope and pray that some little sliver of the goodness and love of God has worked its way into all of our souls as a result of that meditation. I hope that years from now when my family faces something bigger than they can handle, we all put this tool out as a resource and find comfort in the words of the good shepherd.