In my my last post I was very focused on getting out of New Jersey and showing better progress in terms of my daily mileage. That’s the post where I opined that “time is mileage.” That was the “through hiker” coming out in me, frustrated by my pitifully slow pace.
I also have a Henry David Thoreau side to me that deserves equal time. Perhaps better than “equal time” because the “get it done and get on with it” mentality can lead a guy focused only on mileage to completely miss the beauty and the message that God has imprinted on this beautiful creation of His. So… I will muse for a moment about how the Appalachian Trail is like life. This post has some pictures in it, so be sure to check the post on my web site (austinboyd.com) if your filter strips off the images.
Nobody wants smooth sailing more than I do. Last spring I calculated that I’ve run or hiked more than 35,000 miles on these knees. If they were radial tires I would be trading them in soon. Anything but smooth sailing is painful at this point. But not all of life’s paths are smooth. Just as the Appalachian Trail had a designer… many designers in fact… so our lives and our souls have a designer. We hope for and strive for lives where the paths are smooth, like the one in the attached picture. Soft undulating shaded leaf-strewn paths that wind through cool woods with blazing fall colors. God places paths like that in our lives. But He recognizes that a life full of such ease does not challenge or refine us for service in His kingdom.
We are also allowed to negotiate the rocky path, like the picture I have attached. I talk to myself often when hiking, especially on days like Wednesday when I spoke to only one human being, a Southbounder like my intrepid daughter Alice. When I spoke to myself on this trip I found myself criticizing the sadists who deliberately routed the trail up and down cliffs and boulders. Then I realized that, like the refiner purifying gold in the heat of the flame, life has boulders and cliffs to refine us. The path has a designer. God allows us to be tested, for our own good. True, we sometimes travel rocky paths because we live in a fallen world. Or we choose the wrong path, sometimes even littering the path with sharp boulders of our own making. Nevertheless, negotiating tough trails makes us stronger, and gives us the insights that we need to lead others through similar trials.
What about those others who help us? In New Jersey the trail volunteers have laid down over 600 “puncheon,” the two-board walk planks laid across swamp in the New Jersey “drowned lands.” Someone, a designer, went ahead of us laying down a path to help us through the toughest of times. We can object and in our headstrong way wade into the swamp of life and slog it out on our own. Or we can accept help from others and from God, but it may require walking a narrow path. The “narrow path” was not meant for us to be constraining or a punishment. Like the attached picture of the New Jersey “puncheon” we are directed to follow the narrow path for our own good. Otherwise life is a swamp.
What’s the takeaway from all of this? Celebrate the diversity of paths that life dishes out. Understand that life has a designer and that He wants the best for all of us, allowing us to be tested so that we are better shaped to help and lead others, and in better shape for the eternal life that He offers us as a free gift.
I start to berate the designer for the next knee-killing descent. Then I realize that I have walking sticks, I have plenty of time, and I am able to walk. I slow down, enjoy the rocky plunge and smile a little. The Appalachian Trail imitates life. If it were all a smooth walk, then what kind of shape would we be in?
I am learning to accept a slower pace where I learn more, and develop new strengths. Thank you, Lord.