For the first hour of the hike, the only thoughts I could manage dealt with getting more air in my lungs and more willpower to my legs.
Both goals seemed nearly out of reach.
We were taking a week off, spending time in the North Georgia Mountains. These were the mountains I’d climbed as a teenager. These were the paths I’d chosen during a week of mid-life denial a decade ago when a friend and I hiked 40 miles along the famous Appalachian Trail. By the time that week was over, we had renamed it the Appalachian Trial.
We were only back in these same mountains for a day hike.
The lesser-traveled Benton MacKaye Trail was near the cabin we were using, so a son-in-law and I found a trailhead and disappeared into the forest.
Immediately, there was a serious incline. It tested us for the next hour. Finally, we reached the top of a ridge. We caught our breath, found our rhythm, and took in the view.
It was beautiful.
Ferns spread across the forest floor as if God Himself had laid down the carpet. Birds called to one another from the endless supply of treetops. The sun’s rays occasionally sliced through the limbs, reminding us how cool it was in the shade.
And the path was always there, calling us forward with simple clarity.
Like a lot of well-marked paths in the mountains, the Benton MacKaye Trail is maintained by volunteers. Walk the trail with that in mind, and you’ll appreciate the path all the more.
Fallen trees had been moved aside from the path. Some of the larger ones that had temporarily blocked the path had been cut with chainsaws. Someone had hauled a chainsaw up that same path just so I could have a more comfortable walk.
There were other signs that another person had prepared the way for our short hike. Plants with thorns had been removed from the footpath. Large rocks had been positioned perfectly so a stream could be crossed quickly and safely.
Had we wanted to stay on the trail for a few days, we certainly could have. After all, the Benton MacKaye Trail wanders nearly 300 miles through the Appalachian hills! Detailed maps and hiking books provide advice for finding water, camping sites and businesses that cater to hikers along every one of those 300 miles. Someone else mapped it all out, a long time before we decided to walk that way. Someone else had marked the trail for us. Someone else had cut the first path. Someone else had invited us to enjoy the beauty.
All we had to do was walk.
David once wrote these words:
Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow. (Psalm 25:4)
In the times of my life when I’ve found the “right path,” it’s been amazing how clear the way was. It was as if God Himself had marked the trail, cleared out the obstacles and laid out an incredible view.
When I’ve strayed from the path? Obstacles were everywhere. Thorns snagged, trees blocked and streams turned into raging flash floods.
Hiking through the mountains while thinking of God’s chosen paths will also communicate one more truth you’d better not ever forget.
It’s still difficult to follow the path.
In our case, we were sweating profusely by the time we reached the ridge. By the time we’d finished our 9-mile loop, everything from the waist down was in pain. Our shoulders ached from the backpacks we’d carried.
Yes, God has laid out a “right path” for all of us. No, walking that path will never be all that easy. Some days it will be so painful and frightening, you might wonder if God is your friend or your enemy.
Trust Him. Follow the path He’s laid out for you.
It’s the only way you’ll ever be able to enjoy the view. It’s the only way you’ll ever know the satisfaction of doing something incredible.
And eventually, it’s the only way to discover that you were never alone on the path. For the One who cleared the way for you is also the One who promised to never leave you or forsake you.
Just trust in the Lord with all your heart. He’s the One who lays out perfect paths.
Don’t try to figure it out on your own. That’s a guaranteed way to lose your way.
In all your ways give Him the credit only He is due.
And then? He’ll make your path straight.
Your job is to simply keep walking.