I love the mountains. The mere sight of them on the horizon, their heads swathed in gauzy turbans of cloud, their bases lost in the valleys, makes me excited. I love looking at them, I love photographing them, but most of all, I love hiking in them.
Last week I got to go for a wonderful hike with my uncle and cousins. We started climbing early in the morning. Sometimes, early mornings are restless times. Gusts of wind chase the mist back and forth, as though the mountain is tossing its bedclothes around, trying to block out the sunlight which insists on disturbing its slumber. One is never quite sure whether the sun or clouds will be victorious. Finally, the conflict is over, and the mountain emerges, sunny and fresh, as though now that it's finally out of bed, it is glad to be awake.
On this particular morning, the mountain had already made up its mind to wear a smile, and the morning was serene and beautiful. In fact, the whole day was bright and warm, a perfect day for hiking. I always love hiking. But this time, I enjoyed it more than usual. It wasn't only because of the great weather, or the fun companionship, or the thrilling route that we chose. Really, it was because of a change in philosophy.
I decided that this time, rather than focusing on going as far or as fast as possible, I would just enjoy each part of our traverse. Rather than pushing to stay in the front of the line, I varied my position, sometimes bringing up the rear, at other times hiking in the middle, sometimes walking alone, sometimes in company of the others. Each variation was enjoyable, and above all, I was free to delight as fully as possible in the gorgeous weather, the strenuous trail, and the pleasant companionship.
While my body concentrated on pushing forward, my mind mused upon life, and how similar it is to hiking. The secret to the Christian life, it seems, lies in the step-by-step living of daily life. We know that we will reach our destination, because the blood of Jesus has assured that. And so, we are free to concentrate on making the most of each day, enjoying all the blessings that come our way. Some parts of the trail are smooth and level, and how we enjoy those parts! In other places, each step is a challenge, but it's also progress, and although we sometimes quail at the steep places ahead, we can look at the mountains that we've already crossed, and know that the next mountain will be overcome in due time, just by putting one foot in front of the other by the strength that God provides.
It's impossible to describe the exhilaration that one experiences when hiking above treeline. The peaks look velvety from a distance, with juniper climbing partway up the ravines, and blending into gray rocks that cover the tops of the mountains. But when you get close to them they are only masses of boulders piled together, formidable and unforgiving. Your lungs and legs cry out in weariness as you approach the next ascent, but little by little, one step at a time, the heights are gained--and when you look behind you, you're startled by the downward sweep of the bony ridge that you've traversed.
Just like my hiking companions and I encouraged and helped one another over the hard places, we get to strengthen our fellow believers. If five hikers reached the end of their trail, but one fell behind and was lost, the whole hike would be a failure. God assures that each of His children will reach the end of their trail with Him in heaven, but some of us get pretty badly bruised along the way and need the support of others in order to finish the journey well. And certainly each of us needs a helping hand or encouraging word at some point along the way.That hike gave me new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 5:14, "We urge you brethren...encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men." I sure am glad for those who apply that verse to me!
Interestingly, after I relinquished my hunger for miles, and decided to simply enjoy the trip regardless of distance, that hike ended up being the longest I've done. We crossed nine out of the ten peaks in that range...and yes, I do want to go back and try for all ten. But whether we accomplish it or not, I think I've learned my lesson: the journey is a whole lot more than simply a route to a destination!