I recently witnessed a field of fireflies flashing their lights; it was a most beautiful site. It looked like chaos, but if you know anything about fireflies you know that their blinking lights are their way of attracting mates. As the fireflies glide through the air they are sending a very clear signal to anyone who is willing to listen. They are saying, “Hey, I’m friendly, why not come hangout with me.” The problem with this is that when there are several thousand blinking lights in one field, all trying to get your attention, how do you choose which one to follow? And once you choose one, how do you focus on that one when there are so many other just as beautiful lights to distract you. It becomes easy to give up and just admire them all from afar, never allowing yourself to know the joy you might have had from following just one of them and seeing where that little light may have led you.
Many people, and in fact I think most people, choose to admire the fireflies from afar. Choosing to admire them from afar does produce a sense of joy and excitement, it creates a moment when they stop and look and admire. They may even convince some of the people around them to do the same thing by pointing out the site of thousands of little lights dancing through the air. But after only a few moments they will all return to whatever they had been doing and soon forget about the fireflies.
Some people stay longer and attempt to follow the same little light as it navigates the sea of flashing beauty, but they will inevitably lose track of that little light and most likely tire of guessing where the lights will appear and move on to seemingly more exciting things, eventually forgetting about the fireflies until the next time their paths cross.
Others choose to capture one of the fireflies and take it home to care for it, hoping that they can keep the light going forever. This tactic typically ends with the death of the firefly because its captor will likely forget about it and forget to feed it or give it air. The firefly was meant to use its light to bring joy and friendships to others, not be a captive in a little jar for one person’s amusement.
Some people, although admittedly very few, go amongst the fireflies. They do not do this in order to capture them, but to experience them up close. When a person goes into the field, amongst the fireflies it becomes easier to choose one to follow. The onlooker can not only see their chosen firefly when it is lit up, but also in the darkness, because it is right in front of them and it’s pure beauty is the focus of their attention. That firefly may lead that person through a field of brambles or it may lead them through a patch of wild flowers, but because the blinking light is so encapsulating the person will not care, they are simply focused on not losing site of that little light and the joy it is bringing them.
Discerning a relationship with God or which path God wishes a person to follow, is much like looking at a field of fireflies. There are potentially thousands of paths, but how does a person know which one is right? You could view God from afar, and simply admire the beauty of creation. You could choose which path to follow, but how will you remain focused on that path and not lose sight of it? You could keep God in a box on your shelf, but He will likely die, just like the firefly. Or you could go out into creation, with God at your side, and see where He takes you.
There are no definitive answers when it comes to understanding what God is calling you to do and because of this I think that many people choose to distantly admire God. They may go to church every week, participate in the liturgy because that is what they have been socialized to do, but in actuality may feel and perhaps even believe nothing. This particular kind of participation may create a sense of joy and excitement in the short term, but by the time you return home those feelings will have most likely dissipated and you will return to your normal, godless routine. I myself have chosen this path at certain times in my life. I have gone to church because that is what I did; it had no meaning beyond being something that I did. I was a distant admirer and nothing more.
Some people choose to focus their attention on one aspect of God. Over time I became this person. My focus was on worshipping through ritual. I sang in the choir and I served at the altar almost weekly and through that I thought that I had found God and that I understood what it is to be a Christian. However, over a long period of time, it became apparent that I had lost sight of God and strayed from the path, if I had ever been on it in the first place. I got bored and was not interested in looking for the path anymore, so I stopped looking and returned to being a distant admirer.
Some people choose to call upon God when it is convenient or when they need something. They think that they can keep God locked up in a jar and on their shelf and when they need a favor they can take Him down, open the jar and He will fix everything. In a way it is like treating God as a genie. He lives in the lamp and is at your beck and call, but if you don’t need him you can just forget about him. I am also guilty of viewing God in this way. When I was a distant admirer I only prayed, if I ever did pray, when I wanted something.
Some people attempt to walk with God in the world and follow the path that they think he was putting before them. I did this for several years. I began to become disillusioned with focusing my attention on ritual, I realized that it was not enough and that it was not a real relationship with God. I thought that I was heading down a path with God, but when I got to the garden gate I was too afraid to open it, what I now know is that I was allowing the ritual of going to church and doing all of things I had always done fool me into thinking that I was walking with God in creation. While he may have been with me, I was not listening. Now I am left in a state of emptiness. The things that used to fill me with joy that I associated with God no longer fill that void, but I do not know how to find God. I do not know how to stand amongst the fireflies and focus on the one little light that will lead me in the right direction.