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  • Writer's pictureA Musing Pastor

Difficult Not Impossible

Updated: Jun 26, 2022

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)

Life is simply moving one foot in front of another. Faith is the same.

'Attitude can determine altitude.' Though this quote isn't mine, it's one I embed in everything I attempt. If I have a defeated attitude before I start, I usually don't.

The passage from 1 Peter communicates to us the nature of our lives of faith and

our path that isn't always going to be flat, wide, and flowery. In fact, the opposite is

being spoken of here by the apostle who knew a thing or two about a life of chaos.

Suffering produces character and character produces hope. Let's walk together for about five minutes. If you'll indulge me, I can share a few things I've learned about both life and faith while hiking.

* The created order has such diversity and complex relationships that are usually hidden in plain sight to many folk. (Vibrant life gets lost in the chaos around us.)

* A day off lost in the woods is better than 1000 days following a well charted road. (This definition of faith is tough to accept but provides rich benefits.)

* Steep ascents challenge the soul's strength to go forward and upward. (Mom always said, "Success comes in 'cans' not in 'can'ts'. She was and is still correct.)

* In many cases, the view at the top of the mountain was worth every red cent of effort climbing. (Formidable challenges that intersect personal achievements often build confidence for the next Mt. Everest.)

* Meeting fellow wanderers out in creation is always a time of shared seeking. (Relationships matter.)

This past Friday on a day away from the office and work things, I ventured onto the Appalachian Trail (AT) for some creation appreciation time. I observe things. I love to see the extra-ordinary and will often seek it, The mundane day to day stuff often blurs at the edges and becomes second nature and I'll miss it or take it for granted. Keep pressing the edges for the extra stuff. (This also helps one avoid stepping on the innocent snake lying on the trail enjoying the sun.)

It isn't unusual for me to slowly walk a trail sweeping my line of sight left and right keeping a keen eye for the obvious (snakes of all kinds but especially the venomous ones). This meticulous attention is required and will often produce unexpected sightings of other unique things. Did I mention that I observe things. I also love to people watch.

My hike on the AT bumped me into about two dozen hikers. Over half of them were day-hikers like me. We were there to hike a section of the trail then go back to our towns and homes at the end of the day.

There were 9 hikers I met this day that were on the AT making it their home and a metaphor for life and faith. Each thru-hiker (one who begins at the southern terminus of the AT, Stone Mt. Georgia and attempts to finish at the northern terminus, Mt. Kahtahdin, Maine or vice versa) had a personality all their own. Even the dog hiking with its master was portraying a personality that incredibly matched its master.

Here's what I observed in nine North Bound thru-hikers:

  1. R-Dot, his trail name, was calm, appreciative of everything, and felt at ease talking. He was about three months into an uncut beard, his face was weathered, and he looked relaxed in knowing he was past the halfway point of his journey to Kahtahdin. I mentioned my own thoughts of thru-hiking and he nodded. As I mentioned the long stretches of rainy days and mental turmoil, he said, "Even those times on the trail have their own magic." I responded, "I've heard it said the Attitude determines Altitude." R-Dot, smiled, cocked his head sideways and said, "I like that." Our exchange lasted three minutes at best and we parted company with good vibes.

  2. The next fellow was focused, a bit tense, and not willing to stop to chat. I stepped off the trail as he approached and I said hi. He nodded, stared straight ahead, and kept walking. He carried a personality that portrayed a mixture of fear in failing, resolve to forge ahead, and pragmatic to the core.

  3. Hiker #3 was another gentleman who seem a bit cautious and perhaps too timid to be traipsing 2200 miles north. As I stepped off the trail at his approach, he did likewise. I motioned him forward and he asked, "Are you sure?" I nodded and he passed by. I wished him favorable travel. He sidled by as far from me as he could muster without walking into the bushes on the far side of the trail and thanked me in a hushed tone and kept walking. In him, I saw me, an introvert.

  4. Hikers #4 and 5 were linked together as hiker and pet. I saw the dog first as it shuffled up the trail with foldable mat strapped to is vest. I heard the man call his dog and I stepped off in deference to their passage. I remarked that his dog was the ultimate hiking partner and he nodded and said, "You bet." I watched as the dog walked past me, gave me a quick glance, never veering from the trail, then focused back on the trail ahead. The man gave me a confident glance, firm smile, and he too refocused ahead. They both carried the same, 'Can do' attitude and they both exuded confidence and trust in each other. Imagine caring for yourself while hiking 2200 miles, then imagine caring for yourself and providing for your pet along that trek!

  5. Hiker #6 was a man about my age who seemed a bit surprised to see me. He was even more surprised that I stepped off the trail to allow his passage. Apparently trail etiquette isn't practiced by all. Our conversation was brief and cordial and I wished him good travel northward. He thanked me. As I moved away, I took a glance back at him to look at his backpack gear only to see him slightly pause and turn to look back at me. We were both curious. As it turns out, he was most likely checking on the progress of hiker #7.

  6. She was traversing a rocky section of the trail around the bend and just 20 yards behind hiker #6 and I again yielded to her as she hurriedly shuffled by. I mentioned she could take her time and no need to rush on my behalf. She gave a sideways glance, thanked me, and continued on. My observation here was one of admiration for this lady's courage and fortitude. She looked a little forlorn but willing to tackle the monster of 2200 miles of challenge. It's common for thru-hikers to form strong bonds as they all share a unified dream to complete the hike. In hindsight, hiker #6 and 7 were likely hiking together for support and encouragement.

  7. Hiker #8 was much like hiker #2. He carried a furrowed brow and sweat poured out of his face. As I stepped off and he passed, I said, "Safe travels north." He said, "Thanks, I appreciate it." That was all that was said.

  8. Finally, hiker #9 came into sight as I rounded a bend in the trail. I stepped off as he passed. He was stripped down to gym shorts and bright orange hiking shoes. His pack was sweat-stained and he looked spent. His face was blank and his gait was heavy and labored. He most likely was at one of those seasons of the AT thru-hike known as the wall. Walls are created by physical exhaustion, mental tiredness, and a soul that is weary and wavering. I wished him well and he grunted, "Thanks."

Life is difficult. Faith is more so.

We who follow Jesus are commanded to exemplify all the attributes of God whose image resides in each of us. Trials and suffering will often batter and affect our faith to the point that we are trudging through life with little aim and a lack of focus. Our bodies scream exhaustion, our mental state is akin to plate of spaghetti minus the sauce and meatballs (or not), and our souls are coughing on fumes. These symptoms can be traced back to a lack of spiritual connection with the One who created us and to the One who models for us the way of faith and almost always disconnected from the Holy Spirit who resides within.

Suffering, sweating, questioning, and a hundred other walls of struggle assail us each day. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus won't always seem safe or make sense especially when a less difficult path beckons us to follow it. Like the well-worn trail from Georgia to Maine is our path of faith that millions have walked over two millennia. Both are filled with rocks, roots, steep ascents, and harrowing cliffs, and are challenging but not impossible. Difficult? Yes, but not impossible.

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)

PS: Hiking isn't for everyone but living life and walking in faith is. Let's walk together.

"A Musing Pastor"

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