Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lessons from a Hike

Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
                ~Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV

I spent a summer during college working at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado.  Beautiful place.  I went hiking several times, mostly short, easy hikes to amazing waterfalls and the like.  One day, having hiked with a group to a very pretty spot, one of my friends and I decided to go on.  We both wanted to see Loch Vale, and he also wanted to go up to a small glacier (I wasn’t sold on that one).  But I was still enjoying the day after we got to the lake, so I finally agreed to go with him.  It was a normal enough hike until the last half mile.  We climbed about 2000 feet in that last portion of the hike, if I remember correctly.  The last stretch saw us scrambling and slipping among rocks large and small, up a very steep incline.  I felt like some intrepid explorer.

The interesting thing was that, once we got to the rock fields, there was no more trail.  It simply ceased to exist.  We had to make our way as best we could over the difficult terrain of rocks and boulders.  We could have gotten terribly lost, but there were carefully stacked little rock piles every so often to guide us.  In between, there was nothing to indicate that we were going the right way, so we had to scan around until we saw a rock pile ahead, then make our best way to it, stop, and scan the rocks again for another marker.  Sometimes they were hard to see (they blended in, as you might imagine).  A couple of times, we had to set off in what we guessed and hoped was the right direction, before we actually saw the next marker.  I had never really done anything like that before.  It was a little exhilarating – it felt like a real adventure.  There was, though, a fair amount of uncertainty involved.  What if we overlooked a marker?  What if a marker had been knocked down?  What if we got lost?  We had to trust that the park rangers who tended the trails had kept this one in good condition.  Thankfully, the view from the glacial pool was well worth the effort and the risks.

It’s been over eight years since that summer, and I hadn’t thought much about it for a while.  But I’ve been in a similar situation in my life and walk with God.  Some changes are forthcoming – that much I know.  I’ve made the life equivalent of deciding to go hiking, deciding to go on to Loch Vale, and then the grueling and uncertain hike to the glacier.  A little while ago, I hit the metaphorical rock field.  In hiking, it doesn’t take long to see that the markers begin where the trail ends, and that you can press forward (and must) to reach your destination.  In life, we don’t always catch on so quickly.  I certainly didn’t.  I sat around looking for the trail when it simply wasn’t there.

So what’s the temptation?  Go back?  It’s certainly an option, but not one I was willing to consider.  For me, it was to do what I always do in these situations:  I tried to clear a path myself.  I knew God was nudging me forward, and fell into that old trap of thinking I needed to plan out the rest.  I wasn’t looking around for markers or anything, just clearing a path.  The ironic thing is, it’s a lot more work.  If you see a marker up ahead, it may be a bit difficult to get to, scrambling among the rocks, but you get there fairly quickly.  You try clearing a path, you’re picking up every rock.  Not only is it going to take you a lot longer to go the same distance, but your back is going to be hurting by the time you’re done.

Eventually, once I’d gotten myself twisted up enough, God got me looking for the first pile of stones.  I was surprised and happy when I found it.  I made my way there and stopped, looking around stupidly for the path I had assumed would magically reappear once I reached the marker.  There was none.  I was quicker to look for a marker this time, and again I found one.  And another.  And another.  And I suddenly remembered that summer hike in Colorado eight years ago.  Hadn’t thought of it in ages, and it came to me clearly, as a metaphor for my present situation.  I realized I’m not going to have a trail to follow for the foreseeable future.  It’s going to be glimpses of short-term direction with no clear or set way of getting there.  I will have to contend with some uncertainty and uneven ground, and I will have to wait, watch, and trust.  Since I absolutely hate uncertainty, this will be a challenge.  But God has been giving me his presence in the midst of all this fog, and much as I’d like both, I wouldn’t trade that for all the certainty in the world.  And as murky as the route may be, I can at least be certain in this: That God has a destination in mind, that he will go with me and help me get there, and that both the journey and the destination will be incredible.