Inundated by difficult circumstances but unable to discover anything he could do that would make a difference, Tom felt helpless and alone. He had not slept well in weeks. Recognizing a growing feeling of depression, he realized he was in trouble. His doctor recommended exercise to alleviate some of the stress, but the last thing he needed was a bill for a gym membership. He couldn’t see how exercise was going to make anything better anyways; but then the mailman had brought the letter from the IRS, and the pink slips had gone out at work. His life was completely out of control. Desperation demanded that he do something, and though joining a gym was not an option for him, he reluctantly consented to exercise.
Crossing the covered footbridge, he entered the park and looked around. Who spent time in a park, anyways, he thought? Along the riverbank were a few fishermen, but they seemed to be off in their own little world, not really “here” at all. A few kids were scattered here and there in little groups, and several plodding joggers and two women leisurely pushing baby strollers were making their way around the perimeter of the park.
Taking a deep breath, he began to walk determinedly around the asphalt oval. Marching along looking straight ahead, Tom felt very conspicuous. He was not the kind of person who would choose to spend his life sitting under a tree batting away mosquitoes. He did not want to be there, and his expression made that clear. Everyone approaching from the opposite direction could easily read the disdain on his face and avoided eye contact, veering widely to the right as they passed by. His feeling of alienation thus reinforced, he focused on completing the five laps he had committed to. As he walked, his pace became faster and faster, and all he could think of was how soon he would be finished so he could leave.
The babies in the strollers seemed to have decided to have a crying competition, and just as Tom passed by, their frustrated mothers speedily set out for the parking lot. For the rest of that lap he endured the screeching cries of one baby and the loud wails of the other, as the little group kept pace with him. He never had been able to put up with crying babies and he muttered some unkind words under his breath as they finally turned off the path. He could feel the tension building across his shoulders, and because of his rigorous pace his legs were beginning to cramp, but Tom paid it no heed. His only thought was to get done with this so he could prove to himself that he had given it a fair chance and it hadn’t worked.
Suddenly he heard a bicycle horn blaring loudly right behind him. Without stopping, he turned his head and saw a young boy speeding up from behind, apparently with every intention of running over anyone who didn’t move out of the way. As he turned back around and stepped to the side, a low-hanging branch caught him in the face, scratching his cheek and his forehead. Startled, he threw up his arms to cover his face. The little biker sped past, just close enough to brush against him. With his face covered he was off balance, and he suddenly found himself falling. Before he could catch himself, he fell right into a big, wet mud puddle.
Stunned, he slowly stood up. A few steps away was an empty bench, and he made his drippy way over and sat down. As he sat there, all of his miseries began to echo in his mind. Family strife, legal disputes, unemployment, financial distress, and health problems combined with his present situation to completely overwhelm him. He couldn’t make sense of anything; he couldn’t even think. He sat there in despair. After several minutes his mind began to focus just enough for him to realize that he knew what his real problem was, and he knew what the only answer was. His real problem was that he had been trying to handle his struggles on his own, leaving God out of his life. Until recently, he had been able to to keep things under control, but everything had gotten worse so quickly. He could no longer deny that he was helpless without God. He had known that for a long time, but he was just stubborn enough to resist accepting a relationship with God. Tom continued to sit there, finally dealing with his true problem, the only one he could actually do anything about.
By the time he stood up, though there were tears on his face, his heart and step were lighter. His mud encrusted clothes stuck to him as he walked, but he didn’t notice because he was entranced by the sunset up ahead. Everything in the park seemed to have become much more pleasant, and Tom promised himself he would be back. He knew he still faced impossible situations, but now he wouldn’t be facing them alone. He still did not know what was in his future, but he knew who held that future in His hands, and Tom had a strong feeling that he was going to sleep very well that night.