The Journey — 17 things a hiking trip teaches us about following Jesus

A while back, I joined a few other helpers to take about a dozen middle schoolers on a camping trip for two nights and days. And we survived!

We spent a lot of one day hiking and going on other adventures near the campground. And at the end of the day, we sat around the campfire, ate smores and talked about what we had experienced. I found their comments remarkably insightful, especially in relation to the life of following Jesus.

Here they are:

1. There is a path. One of the things that Jesus called himself is The Way. In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus, before they were called Christians, called themselves followers of the Way. You see that name scattered throughout the book of Acts.

In fact, picking up on this theme, one of the names we considered for my son Josiah was Derek, which in Hebrew means “way” or “road,” to match his middle name, which is Pilgrim — a pilgrim on the Way.

That’s what we as followers of Jesus are. We’re pilgrims. We follow a way, The Way. There is a road stretched out in front of us. It is clearly marked and has a defined destination. If we look back, we can see where we’ve been. If we look forward, we can see where we’re going. It may be a bit shrouded in mist and become obscured by some bends in the road, but it’s all out there in front of us.

IMG_43162. The path is with us, not just ahead of us. Every moment we are on the path, we are on the path. Duh. What could be more obvious? But it’s so easy to be focused on what it further down the path. Our eyes scan ahead, even if it’s only just a few steps ahead, but they are always looking forward, stuck on the front of our faces, as they are. And it causes us to ignore the now, the path that is under our feet at this very moment.

Jesus is with us every step of the way, because he is the Way. As long as we keep our feet on the path, we know he’s with us. The padding steps of our feet on the path confirms it.

3. We aren’t the first to walk the path. What’s great is that we don’t have to trail blaze. As we sat around the fire and talked about our hike and other adventures, most of the kids said that at some point, they had thought about the people who had blazed the path before them.

Hebrews 12 talks about Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He’s the one who trail blazed it for us. We see where he’s gone and we step into his footprints as we follow him. It’s his path we’re walking, not one of our own making.

Also, we could hear the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, and we knew that not only was there an initial person who had blazed the trail in the first place, but that there had been many, many others who had maintained the path ever since.

And that makes me think of hundreds and hundreds of years of women and men who have gone before us and have passed on their faith in Jesus to us. They have maintained the path. Their steps along the way have kept the forest from encroaching into it. And some have put in a lot of extra work, cutting out logs that have fallen across the path, whacking back with machetes the undergrowth that has sprung up, wheeling in load after load of gravel to keep it from getting muddy and to keep back undergrowth.

4. If you’re not on the path, you’re lost. So, stay on the path! There be dangers out there for them that wander.

5. Sometimes, there are false paths that seem like they are leading somewhere good but just dump you into a place that you don’t want to be. Getting back to the real path is generally a real hassle. These rabbit trails create confusion not just for us, but for those who follow behind us, since our footsteps contribute to maintaining the false paths we wander on. And it’s possible that those who follow us might get even more lost and waste even more time than we do.

6. Different people go at different paces. And we need them all. We need the energetic people who rush ahead and pull us along. We need the slower-paced people who keep us from rushing to far ahead. There’s a right road, but there is no right pace.

IMG_27567. There are beautiful things all around us. It’s so easy to get caught up with putting one foot in front of the other that we miss out on the amazing waterfalls or the doe and her baby fawn just to the left of the path, silent and unmoving. We are surrounded by grace all the time. We miss out on far too much when we fall into a numb-minded trudging. And yet …

8. Sometimes we simply have to put one foot in front of the other. Over and over and over again. Sometimes, there’s not a lot of excitement. Sometimes, we simply need to survive. Sometimes, we simply need to soldier on through rough spots to get to more enjoyable spots.

9. Going downhill can be such a relief after a long climb upward, but it is harder on the knees and more treacherous for footing. Sometimes the easy road is the hardest road of all. And too much downhill hiking in the beginning can lead to exhaustion later on when we have to go back up.

10. Going uphill can be grueling. That’s why certain paths have been given ominous names like The Devil’s Staircase or Heartbreak Hill or Misery Ridge. Our legs and buns ache. Our heart and lungs feel like they are going to burst. Any extended uphill climb tests what it is that we’re really made of. Are we in shape? Do we know how to persevere? Are we willing to push harder to keep up with the rest? Are we willing to slow down and wait with those who can’t go as fast as we can? No other part of a hike tests the quality of who we are as a long and steep ascent. But no other part of a hike gets us to the top as quickly. And the view from the top is almost always glorious.

IMG_432811. False summits are brutal. So often, we surmount a section of path which seems like it’s brought us to the top only to discover it’s a false summit. We can either be discouraged by these or use them as an opportunity to regroup and press on to the real summit.

12. It’s important to stick together. We really do need each other. It’s far safer to hike together and way more enjoyable.

13. It’s easy for groups to get split up. Communication is essential. On our main hike, I held back with one person who just needed more time on a significant uphill part. But apparently, the rest of the group broke into two more groups as well, leaving us in three groups that couldn’t see each other. One thing and one thing alone brought us back together at the end — the path itself. Even though there was distance between us, we were still on the same path and it held us together (even with the gaps). It was because of that that I was willing to hang back with that one person. So, trust the Path to keep us together!

14. Beware of bad directions. It doesn’t matter how long and hard you persist in following bad directions, they simply won’t get you to where you’re supposed to be going.

IMG_0567Several of us went geocaching during the afternoon one day. Geocaches are generally small containers hidden at precise locations. The longitude and latitude coordinates are put on a website and can be put into a GPS device or a geocaching app, so you can get close to it and find it, usually with a few extra clues to help out.

Well, after finding four geocaches and one earthcache and telling the group about it, two of our intrepid helpers decided they wanted to find one we hadn’t been able to find.

I picked them up four hours later.

The coordinates were wrong.

When we had gone out to find the elusive cache earlier, we’d ended up on logging roads and in thick forest, so we’d given up and moved on to the next one. But our explorers were determined. And yet, no amount of determination could get them to their desired destination — because it was somewhere else.

If you have bad directions, keep reading. When they looked more closely to the clues in my phone, they discovered there were photos showing a totally different place — a much tamer place — and a formula for refiguring out the coordinates. If they’d kept on reading, they would have gotten so lost.

This is true of our reading of Scripture. Proof texts and bad readings abound. But that’s not because the Bible is confusing. It’s because people haven’t keep reading, haven’t persisted in seeking to know the Path.

15. There is treasure everywhere. Not only are there the natural beauties to be seen, but fellow travelers leave things behind — and not just their trash.

That’s the fun of geocaching. People leave things behind for other travelers to discover, breaking up the journey.

16. There’s something about us that needs a destination. And when the capital-D Destination of our lives is a long way off, we need other ones along the way. Breaking up the journey among smaller destinations — a waterfall, a geocache, a picnic spot — enables us to endure to the end.

17. There’s a party at the end. And so, we gathered around the campfire, burned out marshmallows, stretched out muscles, recounted our adventures, laughed at our jokes, and relished in the community that had been formed along the Way.Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 1.14.05 PM