“Ok, that was the longest switchback! Just four more to go,” Hikemaster Laura said to our little group of Midwesterners from the flattest of the flatlands.
It was day two at Rocky Mountain National Park, and I was about 400 vertical feet from our lofty 10,200 ft mountain lake destination called the Loch.
I felt like the little engine that could as I focused on each step and my breathing. Breathe in three steps, breathe out three steps, repeat. My poor Ohio lungs sucked every bit of oxygen possible from each raspy gasp.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with switchbacks, they are a series of paths designed to help hikers zig zag slightly up and horizontally across a very steep mountainside. I guess someone out there might prefer to scramble straight up like a mountain goat, but the extra mileage was worth it to me when compared to the heart pounding, calf burning, alternative.
Back and forth we went, left, right, left, right, and just a bit upward every time. I had some internal questions. Were we really getting anywhere? And more importantly, how much longer?
Are we going the right way?
I started thinking about how the path filled with switchbacks was a lot like life.
At times I can see my goal, the final destination, yet I can’t get there on a straight path. Other times I can’t see the goal at all, much like this hidden lake at the top of the mountain. Sometimes the end goal is way above me or it’s at my back. I have to trust the path that I’m on will get me there the safest, albeit not the quickest way.
The thing I’m learning about following God is that he’s a big fan of the process. Every step of the journey is just as important as the end destination. Why? Because he’s all about our relationship with him. Sometimes we are talking freely walking side by side on the flat paths of life.
Then suddenly the trail climbs dramatically and we lapse into companionable silence. We travel single file, content to hear the other breathing or see their hiking boots picking out a surefooted path on the rocky trail ahead of us that we can follow.
Trust the path and the One who made it.
Personally, my life just hit a switchback, but that’s ok. You know what? There’s a different view directly ahead of me than there was before. But it’s just as beautiful, possibly more, because the anticipation has built expectation for the surprise that God has in store for me next.
As I travel the switchbacks of life, I’m learning to be content knowing that God has set the path and he knows best how to get me where I’m going…even when it makes no sense to me.
I’ve found out it’s ok to take a rest when the path gets too steep–in both hiking and in life. That’s what I was doing out in Colorado. Healing and resting as I soaked in the majesty of his creation.
You gotta climb.
Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop of life, but here’s the thing, you have to climb a mountain to get there!
Climbing can be hard work, but I’m looking forward to the view when I get to the next mountain peak on my life’s trail. When I step onto the highest boulder at the top and look at the trail I just climbed, I think all the twists and turns will make sense.
But even if they don’t, I will set my gaze ahead, on the horizon. As I take in the crisp blue of the sky, the shimmering emerald lakes, the Aspen leaves shaking in the breeze, and feel the sun on my face, I will know that the challenges of the past shaped my character for the better.
You aren’t on the trail alone!
I was so thankful for the hikers that had already been to the top and were coming down the trail. As we passed one another, they encouraged, “you can do this!” as I clung to the rocky path catching my breath. My favorite encouragement was from a lady who said “I’m not gonna lie, it’s a ways further and it’s steep, but…the view! Oh…it’s worth it!”
Similarly, I’m thankful for the faithful family of Christ-lovers in the Church who say the same thing. There are so many wonderful people who have walked the path ahead of us. If your way seems especially difficult, ask for encouragement from the ones who have walked that way before.
When your path intersects theirs, step to the side of the path, take a snack break, and ask them. They will tell you that they have been on the mountain, in the valley, and everywhere in between. They made it by clinging to God’s faithful promises and by trusting his character of goodness toward his beloved children. Beloved child…that’s you–just in case you forgot.
Your path is not hidden from the Lord. He knows just where you are at all times. The triune God is next to you, ahead of you, and behind you on the path.
You, my friend, are in safe hands. Breathe in, pause to enjoy the view, and then keep moving forward. The landscape might change suddenly, but the path is set and God will lead you to your destination. And like I was reminded recently, “Oh…it’s worth it!”