My first summer of guiding at Wilderness, my best friend Sarah, another guide Michael, and I took out a group of girls and boys from League City, Texas.
Our second day on trail, we were stuck in a mess of jungle. There’s a little creek called Willow Creek, and we had been given instructions to go find this creek, and then follow it all the way down to where we needed to go. Easy Peasey. When we first began hiking that day, there was a road to our North- a big, fat, 4 wheel drive road, and forest straight ahead. Naturally, in the spirit of adventure, we led the kids straight into the forest. The road would take us a couple miles out of the way, and we had been reassured that once we hit that creek, it would be easy. So just a little bit through the forest, to the creek- not a problem.
About a mile in, we were confused. We had hit Willow Creek, and we were following it, but somehow we had ended up hiking on such steep terrain, that we weren’t sure how to move forwards. The creek was about 30 feet below us, surrounded by (who would have guessed) willows. There was no easy path near the creek, and we didn’t want to risk getting cliffed out, either, so we stayed up high, where the plants were smaller and our foresight greater, but it was impossibly steep. But we kept trekking, because, well, when you’re hiking and your only human contact is picking you up from a certain point at a certain time on a certain day, you really have no choice but to just keep moving. So we did. And it got steeper and steeper, our single file line stumbling and sliding and crying behind me. With each step, our high school friends become more and more hopeless.
Three hours had gone by, then four, five, six….we had crossed boulder fields and cliffs and yet felt like we were no closer to where we were going. It was far past lunchtime, but there wasn’t a good spot to stop- no flat ground anywhere. But we needed lunch. The campers were starving and they weren’t used to hiking at all, let alone through this jungle. So we dropped our packs and went down near the creek, where the land was semi-flatish, and we cleared a place within all the ferns and sat down for my least favorite meal of all, peanut butter and jelly on tortillas.
As the kids sat down to eat, Sarah and I pulled over to the side, took out our compass and maps, and confirmed, yet again, that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. In the middle of this mess- exactly where we were supposed to be. Sarah went back to rejoin the group, and I ran ahead half a mile or so to look for a trail. There was a chance that there was a trail, and being so high up, we had just missed it. I ran and ran, but no trail. I sat down on a boulder and prayed.
Jesus, I hate this. Please help us. I know this is geographically where we are supposed to be, we have followed all of the information we were given, but there isn’t a place to put our feet. We are falling and sliding. Please give us a trail. Get us out of here. Oh Jesus, we are so tired. Just let this day end.
I spent a few more minutes by myself before running back to the group. Falling apart by yourself is always much better than falling apart in front of 12 high schoolers. On my way back, it hit me- this sure is a lot like life with Jesus.
There’s a false prosperity gospel floating around these days. The world has always known false gospels, but this one is especially prevalent right now. It says, “accept Jesus and your life will be amazing. You will be successful and everything will be better and easier and you will also probably be rich.” Hmmm….confused about what Scripture that’s coming from? Yeah, me too.
Jesus doesn’t promise us that life will be easy. He doesn’t say that all of our problems will disappear when we let him into our lives. No, instead, he says this, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
There are days, weeks, months, seasons, when all I can think is “this is so hard.” I know that I’m traveling in the right direction, I know that I’m following God’s will, so why is this so damn hard?
At the end of our day, we hiked a total of maybe 4 miles. 4 miles in 8 or 10 hours. The pace was slow, and painful, and treacherous. We knew we were going in the right direction, we knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be, and yet it was hard. Painfully hard. At the end of the day, we came up over a ridge and ended up in a beautiful clearing, right next to- you guessed it, that big, fat, four wheel drive road. We could have taken the road all along. But that day, we learned a couple important things. Following God’s will means going into the messes that he calls us to. Down into the creek, up on the side of a mountain where we could barely get our footing- into the hard places. He calls us into messes and into hard times because that is when we truly learn to rely on Him, and trust Him, and turn to Him.
Epilogue: a hailstorm rolled in right as we were setting up our tents and trying to get dinner started. Sarah and Michael and I half laughed and half cried, together in agreement that no matter where life takes us, we will always choose adventure, confident that Jesus walks every treacherous step right alongside us.