Straight and Narrow

Nothing inspires me to write like a walk in the woods.

Or in this case ... out from under its canopy.

It has happened to us at least twice. This time with the kids along. Looking over a map covered in squiggles, you spy a straight line. Typically it follows a traffic-restricted park road or right-of-way. Perhaps you are crunched for time. Perhaps you are hiking with children and need a shorter route. Perhaps it is the only way to a supposedly "must-see" view.

This view was not

On the map, it always appears short, straight, flat, and quick. And physically it is.

Mentally - this is where hiking gets hard.

How hard could it be?

Regardless of the season, these easy paths always seem to bask in the sun. Soon the casual lull of walking with no decisions to be made becomes tedious. Even the most difficult climb is finite. At the end is the promise of an elevated perspective and a change of direction. On the "easy" path, two lines stretch out in front of you endlessly, never quite meeting.

Despite the lack of strenuous effort, sweat begins to pool and drip at annoying, irregular intervals. If you are fortunate the sun is at your back, your shadow leading you onward. More often than seems logical, the sun will be glaring at you face-to-face, forcing your gaze to the monotonous cadence of your dusty boots.

Stops are somehow less refreshing; more of the same awaits you. You begin to doubt your decision. Yet there is no changing your mind now. Simply sitting down and demanding to be carried only works for the smallest hiker.

I'd rather be stumble-tripping over roots under the kind shade of the forest. I'd prefer stair-stepping, leaning nearly parallel to the terrain to stay upright, heart thundering with effort as each screaming contraction of muscle brings me higher. I'd even prefer the jarring, difficult journey back down when a misstep could mean endless crashing. It is a nice change to have muscles I've forgotten admonish me for their neglect. Something challenging. Different.

Tim contemplating an interesting path

On a difficult but worthwhile hike, those who have gone before greet you with encouragement and unmistakable secret smiles. On the easy road ... apparitions slip silently by. Later you won't be sure if you saw them or not. You may not be scanning the path hoping to spot a cairn congratulating you on finding the trail ... but you will begin to question your choice all the same.

Faith is like that. It sounds simple enough - believe and be saved. Then just walk straight. How hard could it be? But then the schemer comes whispering. We get bored. We forget the reward that lies ahead and are drawn away by lesser views ... what if it isn't worth it in the end?

Like the merciless sun, trouble is promised with each new dawn. There will be times with no shade. A road in the forest can feel like desert bereft of trees ... there will be times it feels as if we step out in faith alone, unsheltered by One who promised protection. We cease to feel Him surrounding us in the glare of our present daily troubles.

It takes more faith to stay on the straight path than it does to crest the mountain or descend into the valley. More trust that these trudging steps are still adding up to something worthwhile. When you are feeling beaten down and like the next right thing is getting you nowhere, keep on. You are still making progress in the mundane.

"... forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal ..."
- Philippians 4:13b - 14a

Even when I don't see it 
You're working
Even when I don't feel it
You're working
- Leeland, Way Maker 



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