Two summers ago, my family moved across the country from Southern California to southern Missouri. I grew up in western Oklahoma — where the land is flat and the dirt is red — so it was a homecoming of sorts to my Midwest roots. Not to mention a culture shock, because we’d been away so long.
My husband had already driven our moving truck to Missouri and stored our “stuff” a month earlier, so our family was able to take our time as we drove out east. We rambled and explored and uttered lots of “ooohs” and “aahs” at the beautiful places we passed. California, with its beaches, mountains, forests, deserts, and of course, urban sprawl. Nevada’s red cliffs. Utah was absolutely breathtaking! Colorado, too, with its enormous peaks, and New Mexico — unique, but just as stunning.
It was a beautiful trip. More than once we pointed out God’s creativity and majesty and handiwork.
And then, we came to Texas.
The Texas panhandle, to be exact. My kids grew up in suburban Los Angeles, and had never seen such wide open space. They laughed at what they called “random cows” on the side of the road, and were amazed at two-lane highways and country farmhouses “in the middle of nowhere.”
But instead of wishing for better scenery — instead of finding the plains rather, well, plain compared to what we’d just driven through — a strange thing happened. Something in my Oklahoma heart woke up. All that flatness — all the openness of western Texas and Oklahoma — to me, was beautiful.
“I think I just breathe better here,” I told my husband. “I need space.”
The same is true spiritually. I have what we Christians call “mountaintop experiences” — the exciting times when I see God’s hand so clearly. I have valleys and deserts, when I struggle and doubt but still know that He’s at work. I have busy and hustle and hurry — crowded calendars full of good intentions and service for Him. Ministry happens in the midst of those crowds, so following Christ means being in the thick of it, and shining light there.
But maybe my soul also needs the plain ol’ plains. The quiet. The simplicity. The wide open places, free from distractions — because frankly I already have enough noise inside my own head. I need a place to catch my breath and listen. To do nothing but just be.
“The health of your soul isn’t just a matter of saved or unsaved,” writes John Ortberg in Soul Keeping. “It’s the hinge on which the rest of your life hangs.” Keeping my soul healthy is crucial. It’s difficult, but not impossible. It requires hard work at things like Sabbath and rest. It means scripture meditation and a prayerful life, not just checking an obligatory quiet time off the to-do list. A healthy soul takes discipline, but, oh! The joy that comes! The freedom and peace and life that are mine when I keep my soul in a spacious place, even in the midst of highs and lows and crowds and noise.
Jesus sees my distracted, busy heart, and as He told Martha, “You’re busy with so many things, but only one thing matters: stay here at My feet” (Luke 10:38-42). “Remain in Me. Live in Me, because apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
In other words, “Be, don’t do.”
Christ calls me to have a West Texas simplicity in a Southern California life.
To keep a quiet, content heart, whatever the state I’m in.