Join me on a journey? A journey to the mountains? A cross-country trip? Like Bilbo Baggins, “I want to see mountains again!” Can you see them? Their tops hidden in the pinkish fog and the sun peaking through as it rises above them? The closer you get, the bigger you realize they are and how small you are. Can you feel the mountain air? Are you ready for a challenge? The path is there before you. It’s marked by little orange strips of paint on nearby rocks or trees so you don’t lose your way. It looks pretty smooth from where we stand. I’ve been here before; I know where it leads and that it isn’t as smooth as it looks. There’ll be downed trees, huge holes, lots of rocks and sticks, plenty of bugs, and beauty all around enveloping us in the sincerity of the mountain forests. We set out excited and full of energy and ready for the challenge set before us…
Do you remember how your journey with God started? Do you remember the time when you awakened to God and His journey like no other? You may have been dragged, bribed, or persuaded into it – like Bilbo being offered a contract to go on an adventure to far off countries. Maybe your parents took you to church – forced you, bribed you, promised that you could go on that youth trip to Gatlinburg if you behaved in “big church”. In the end, it was still your choice. Or maybe you volunteered – begged to go to church or mission trips, yearned to go learn more about Jesus. Maybe you were like the dwarves who volunteered for the trip to save their homeland, to go meet their destiny. At some point, something in you clicked. You understood what Jesus did for humanity or experienced God’s love or witnessed a miracle. Somehow, someway, you made a choice to join God on His journey to save the world. You were excited, ready to take on the world, go on mission trips, spread the Gospel…you stood at the beginning of the path and said, “OK God, I’m ready. Let’s go…”
Half a mile into the hike we meet our first obstacle…a huge tree that has fallen across the path with no way past except over or under. Which way to go? Going over could result in a fall; it’s a pretty big tree. We may not fit under the tree. Either way there are risks, small though they may be. Imagine we help each other climb up and stand on top of the tree. It’s bigger than we thought, but we figure out a way to climb down. We made it! We decide we can’t go further without taking a breather first. As we continue, we encounter other challenges…a creek crossing, steep inclines, dropoffs on one side, a rock on the side of the mountain we have to navigate around without falling…We find ourselves hot, tired, and slightly battered. You know, we’ve got a couple of scrapes from climbing over trees, maybe a sore knee from a fall, or some wet clothes from a fall in the creek. Despite the falls, trips, and stumbles, despite being tired and perhaps grumpy, despite being dirty, smelly, and thirsty/hungry we keep pressing on. Why? Because the path hasn’t ended yet, we haven’t made it yet. So we keep going, following the path on and on “over rock and under tree, by caves where never sun has shone, by streams that never find the sea; over snow by winter sown, and through the merry flowers of June, over grass and over stone, and under mountains of the moon” (from The Hobbit).
Life is like that sometimes. We keep going, celebrating the victories and pushing on after disappointments and struggles. Sometimes it feels like we’re falling apart…we don’t have the strength to climb over that “tree”, that obstacle in life. Sometimes you feel like you just can’t “hike” anymore. You want to give up…but something inside you gets you back up and on the path. Maybe you get distracted by a side path, maybe you can’t find the “marker” and are afraid you’re lost, or maybe you leave the path on purpose. Life has plenty of distractions. Maybe it’s something that the path goes through.
There is a trail in South Carolina that goes up into the mountains and passes through this lovely rock layout with water splashing down from above and it looks out over the valley. It’s a breathtaking spot. I could stay there for hours. But the thing is, that’s not my destination. There are more challenges ahead, a steeper incline, more dangerous obstacles…but at the end – my destination – is an even more astonishing view. You cross over a bridge and walk around a corner of the mountain. And there you see it, the water piles up into a pool that you can bathe in with rock platforms spread out on both sides of the stream where you can rest in the sun, eat your meal, rehydrate, and take in the view. It’s such a satisfying moment – knowing that you hiked high into the mountain, maybe you defeated a fear of heights or of strenuous activity; these are fulfilling on a deep level.
How much more fulfilling, more freeing, more breathtaking will it be when we reach our heavenly destination? How will it feel? Looking back at what you had to sustain, at the falls you took, the stumbles and trips, the distractions you allowed to lead you astray…they all pale in comparison to having made it to your destination. You followed Paul’s example, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14). You kept going. You followed the path that God pointed out to you until you reached the place He set aside for you.
My friend, I leave you with more of Tolkien’s poem spoken through Bilbo and, I hope, some encouragement for the times when you are recovering from one of life’s falls, stumbles, trips, or distractions.
“The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.”
Dear friend, whatever you are going through…please don’t give up. Hold on. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It’s good to rest. The road continues before you. Are you going to continue down this path laid out before you?