This past Sunday afternoon we went on a family hike up in Millcreek Canyon, the Little Water trail up to Dog Lake. It was about 2.2 miles to get to the lake from the trailhead, which is a gamble with Zoe hiking on her own, but we were ambitious and optimistic; it was going to be great. About 1/2 mile in, Zoe started complaining, and moaning, and sitting down in the trail. Pretty soon it was clear to us that we weren't going to make it to the lake as both girls were crying, asking for food and wanting to go home; and we weren't even half way there. Unsatisfied, impatient, not resting in the beauty around us...these girls were giving up on the journey because it had become too difficult for them.
So often, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we live our lives like this in our relationship with God. We might start out excited and ambitious, but soon the discomforts of the journey take our eyes off of the beauty around us and create a distrust and frustration with God...as if He doesn't understand what we want and what we are going through.
Right as Rachel and I got to the point where we realized we had to throw in the towel on the hike, we saw a cluster of gorgeous aspen trees wrapped in Autumn gold. And so we decided to go up the trail 100 more yards to hug some aspen and then we would turn around and head home. It was like a switch was flipped inside Zoe's mind, "I only have to go 100 yards, and daddy will help me get there." Once Zoe and I reached the grove, Zoe ran over to Rachel to join her in hugging this big bold aspen tree. And it was like all the joy and wonder of the woods and the mountains filled Zoe's tired body and she started running up the trail with our dog Chaco. While we shouted ahead to Zoe, telling her that she was going the wrong way, she quickly turned around and said, "We have to go to the end of the trail! I want to go to the lake! Come on, let's go!" And with that proclamation, she charged ahead, hugging trees as she continued up the trail.
Remarkably, we made it to the lake. It was gorgeous and restful. But it was the journey itself that made an impacting memory for me. Zoe's trail experience is such a great metaphor for life...even after that breakthrough moment, where she decided to charge ahead to victory, there were falls and moments of exhaustion and even disbelief if we would ever get there. But her response to the tough times had been transformed once she made this journey her own. Being told what she could and should do (by us parents) was not as empowering for her as discovering what this journey actually was for her, that it was enjoyable and challenging and fun!
Our worlds often feel shaped by what others think we should do; our goals and accomplishments and even our walk with Jesus seem to carry a weight of expectation. But when we rest in who God is, making the journey our own and allowing Him to carve it, while taking one step at a time soaking up the experience in front of us; we recognize that God is shaping our story out of a deep and bold love for us... When we experience this, we respond differently when challenges come our way. We come to understand there is a reason for the journey, and that the path will lead to somewhere beautiful. We become less concerned about the distance or the danger, and more concerned about sharing the beauty and encouraging others to follow us. We begin to see others around us as loving companions, rather than competitors or commanders. Our attitudes shift from "I have to.." to "I want to..."
I think it is in those moments, when our hearts are open and malleable, that we experience God so fully, so deeply, that we can rest ourselves into bold action. We are so content and confident in who God says we are...our identity and redemption and value coming from the King...that every step we take has bigger purpose, deeper impact, and greater meaning to the world around us. How else could a whiny, angry child turn into such an enthusiastic and brave leader? The journey becomes real. Jesus becomes real. Our story becomes less of an accomplishment or a competition and more of a life of trust, living humbly and excitedly before a mighty and loving God.
But perhaps, the most profound takeaway for me came from my own actions and heart posture on this hike. I started to recognize that my expectations, both those I communicated and those I did not, had an impact on Zoe's journey. It was once I accepted the fact that we would not reach the lake I so badly wanted to reach, and let go of my expectation for us to get the mileage I thought we should have easily been able to handle, that I was actually able to rest and be present in the midst of the beauty. I felt more free to slow down and look around at the rocky cliffs, golden trees and babbling creek. And that freedom was contagious. Zoe began to feel that freedom, that nothing was expected of her, that we were just there to walk in the woods together and be present within something bigger than ourselves.
Gosh, how true that is of us as Christians, as the Church. I think we have such a strong tendency to put expectations, goals and even judgments on other people's journeys that does damage and pushes them away. Could we be a people who share a contagious freedom; where our only agenda is to love others and allow them to walk at their pace? What would it look like to come alongside others to encourage, to share that moment with them; not to help them see us, but to see Jesus more fully. We should not be people-fixers, intent on lugging others up a mountain so that they can experience what we think they should see. We are called to love as Jesus loved.
That is what I saw in myself that day. Slow down. Be still. Stop striving, stop pushing, and look around. See where I am, see the beauty I am ignoring, see the people that are around me. Stop working so hard to make this journey different than what it is...embrace it. Allow others to experience it for themselves. And see that Jesus is with us, both in the beauty and the mess.
Director of Experience & Learning
Salt Lake Fellows
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative