There are a lot of things that can feel stressful and overwhelming as we transition into fall and away from relaxing vacations or late nights laughing with friends during summer cookouts. Trying to shed extra weight, put on during the pandemic, getting back into the rhythm of shuttling kids to school or sports practice, staff teams facing new challenges because of organizational changes. Where do you start when there are myriad of things competing for your energy that all feel urgent?
Start with one small thing. Go for a walk.
Beyond the health benefits of walking, getting up and moving helps to spark creativity and problem-solving. Being alone gives us time to reflect on the thoughts and ideas that may be muted by the buzz of working at home or in the office. Even a short 15-minute walk can create space to release stress and help to pause and listen to what Jesus might want to speak to you during the day. While we often focus on what Jesus did once he arrived in the towns and villages to heal the sick, cast out demons and call people to follow him, there was a lot of time he spent walking to those places. He walked by himself and he walked with the disciples. Though we aren’t told what Jesus thought about on these walks I imagine that it was a mixture of prayer, reflection, building relationships with his disciples and simply enjoying the presence of God.
Some of the world’s most famous thinkers were also walkers. Ludwig Van Beethoven worked from early dawn to mid-day, breaking for short walks often bringing sheet music and a pencil with him to jot any music he was inspired by during his saunters. The 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is alleged to have his best ideas while out walking often rushing home to write at his standing desk. Steve Jobs famously had walking meetings with teammates both to get exercise and to shift power dynamics in their conversations.
When I worked in an office as a writer it was difficult to be creative when I heard the muffled sounds of people on conference calls, the whirr of the copy machine, or conversations in the hallway. Though I appreciated the solitude my office gave me, I found that I needed both an energy and creative boost during the day. I would take just 15 minutes and walk around our parking lot three times, or down to a small stream around the corner from my office. Afterward, I found that I had more mental clarity, felt calmer, and was able to work out problems in a new way.
After a few colleagues asked me about my daily strolls, I began to ask them if we could have our meetings while walking. Though sometimes it wasn’t possible to take a walk together because we needed to be on a zoom call or to take notes, the walks provided a great opportunity for brainstorming and reflection. Walking side by side without having to look at one another gave space to bring up difficult issues or to become more vulnerable. It can feel less intimidating for a supervisee to go on a walk instead of facing a supervisor in their office with a desk or table in between. On HBR.Com Professor Russell Clayton shared: “Walking meetings lead to better employee engagement by breaking down barriers between supervisor and subordinate or between co-workers,” he writes. They act like “a micro version of the bonding that can be experienced when co-workers travel together on business trips.”
When facing particularly challenging or deeply disappointing days I thought about the story of the battle of Jericho in scripture on my daily walks. In Joshua 6 the Israelites are facing their first battle to win the land of Canaan. God instructs the Israelites to march around the walled city of Jericho once a day for six days. Joshua 6:4-5 says “On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
Though God could have told them to simply stand outside of the city and blow their trumpets on the first day while the priests prayed, he told them to walk. The Israelites had already been in the wilderness for 40 years. The people who had initially fled Egypt had died. The generation that Joshua would have been leading had no personal memory of the victories God had secured for them. I’m sure there were a few Israelites who wondered- “Is this crazy? Will God really show up and help us take the land? What will marching do to help us conquer the city? Won’t we look foolish?”
Alisa Keeton, founder of Revelation Wellness, a faith-based fitness movement writes: “Something transformative happens in our brains and our bodies when we move our feet and hear God’s truth. As we start to think and say new things, what feels stuck inside of us gets unlocked!” As they marched, perhaps God was doing something in their souls to believe that as they took steps with their feet, they were also steps to deepen their trust in God’s promises.
You might be facing significant leadership challenges in your life or work. God is faithful to speak to you in the exact ways that will give you victory and overcome the barriers you face. God is always moving in the people and the structures in which we operate. Sometimes we just need to give space to move our feet to listen to his guidance.
Have you had breakthrough moments when you’ve been out for a walk?
What habits do you have to mentally work through problems or create space to reflect during your day?