Last Thursday I went with my Peer Learning Group to the Ignatius House–a Jesuit Retreat Center tucked away in north Atlanta. The center is an oasis of trees and large grassy areas all sitting just above the river.

Our group gathered for coffee and conversation, and then our leader guided us into the day’s topic and gave us our instructions. Observe silence and listen. Listen for God. Listen to God. Read and pray and journal–but be listening. And then she said, “Come back in an hour and tell us what you heard.”

I found the assignment rather daunting. But I am a direction follower–so off I went to listen. For thirty minutes I sat on one of the beautiful decks outside–overlooking the river, surrounded by trees. Spring has slammed into Georgia so the trees were in full bloom and the birds were singing.  I read the scripture text we have been given. I sat quietly. I wrote in my journal. I listened. I heard nothing but the birds. But I persisted and read more, listened harder, wrote more. Still nothing. God apparently was practicing silence as well.

After another ten minutes of hearing nothing, I gave up and decided to just enjoy the sights and sounds. I began making my way down to the river. The trail leading to the river winds around. An earlier rain had left it a bit slippery. So I walked carefully. The wooden beams that serve as steps on some of the trail’s curves are not evenly spaced out, and for someone like me with short legs, those steps are awkward. I found myself taking two to three shortened steps for every one wooden beam.  This walking on the trail down to the river was turning out to be more work than I had anticipated. I looked around to see if there was an easier way–maybe I could just bypass the trail and make my own path. But the trail was on a sloping hillside, and the way down was steep and crowded with trees, fallen logs, bushy undergrowth. The ground was uneven and blanketed by wet leaves. So I stuck to the trail.

I finally negotiated all the turns and curves and steps and made it to the river, and just as I arrived, I saw a bird flying just above the water’s surface looking for lunch. I heard other birds calling out to one another. I heard the quiet sounds of the river.

And standing by that peaceful river, I finally heard. God ended the silence, and I listened and heard.

“There are no short cuts to the river.”

Being somewhat slow to process, I had to ponder this message, but I finally got it. And my understanding drove me to confession for I am one who too often looks for shortcuts, quick answers, immediate responses. I don’t want to wait for God to speak, for God to move. I don’t have time to sit around. I need God to work faster, harder. I need God to speak louder, clearer.

There standing beside the quiet river I understood that I have to invest myself in times of silence, times of prayer and listening, times of reading and pondering. I need to be willing to make my way down the trail, even when the walking gets hard or the path seems too difficult. To know and follow God, to embrace fully my relationship with God requires time and patience. It requires reading and studying, pondering and praying. It requires commitment to walk the trail, to stay the course, to persevere.

“There are no short cuts to the river.”

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.