Gerry Carlson: For many years I dreamed of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. Well, it is not going to happen. My time for such adventuring is past. But in 2012 Connie and I camped several days at Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. This building and store is considered the half-way point on the 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed examining the small museum at the HQ, purchasing a memento ball-cap, and meeting some bona-fide hikers. I’ve always admired those who hike the Trail – whether partially, or completely.
This past year I learned that one of my valued former students from Maranatha Baptist Bible College did a ten-day expedition through the Shenandoah National Park section in Virginia. Steve Benedict had completed 18 years pastoring at a Virginia church and was taking a sabbatical to consider his next steps in ministry. As part of a season of prayer and seeking God’s will he embarked on a solo hike on a segment of the Trail in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Below is an excerpt from a personal post that Steve wrote last June on his own blog. I asked Steve if I could reprint a portion of his excellent post on Grace Journey. His words of experience and learning are wise and profitable for us all. Read and be blessed!
On the Appalachian Trail there’s a special blaze to indicate a sudden or unexpected twist or turn in the trail. Instead of a single blaze, there’s a double blaze. This warns the hiker that the trail is about to take an unexpected turn, so pay attention.
Somehow, I either missed that section in the hiking manual or forgot it. So, as you can imagine, I was in for a rude surprise when I blew past my first double blaze on day two of my hike. I had just passed Hogwallow Flats and reached the summit of Mount Marshall. The trail meandered along the ridge of the mountain for maybe a half mile, getting more rugged and narrow all the time. The views were stunning and there were striking rock formations all around, where ancient movements of the tectonic plates had thrust massive sedimentary rocks into all kinds of crazy angles. The terrain had an other-worldly look. And then, there came the double blaze. The trail took a sharp turn down the mountain and I, assuming that there was another scenic overlook just ahead, took a sharp turn up the mountain.
I didn’t notice anything for maybe 10 minutes. I just kept wandering down what looked like a trail. Maybe it was, for deer or bear or something. But there came a point at which I knew I was lost. Then, I compounded the error. Since I assumed that the trail had gone up the hill, I headed off at a 90 degree angle to intercept where I thought for sure the trail would be. It wasn’t.
At this point, there was no retracing my steps. I stopped, got out my trail map and compass and tried to figure out what went wrong. What I discovered was, even though I thought I was right, I was headed in the exact opposite direction and had been for a long time.
I charted a new course and headed out over some of the steepest, rockiest terrain imaginable. It took me a good 45 minutes or more, but I eventually found the trail. But there were some consequences. I had blown about 2 ½ hours of time and energy- both valuable commodities for an out of shape hiker like me. And I had also shredded my feet. The hard angles and rocky surfaces, untamed by a trail, created blisters and a stress fracture that dogged me the rest of the hike.
I learned some valuable lessons that day which carry over well into the journey of life. Maybe you can benefit from them too.
Lesson 1) When you realize you are off track, STOP and return to where you lost your bearing. Don’t try to fix it on your own, it only compounds the error. It was self-reliance that got you there in the first place. The very moment you discover your’e lost, stop and return, God is waiting for you there (2 Chronicles 15:4).
Lesson 2) When you’re lost, everything looks like a trail. Have you ever noticed that? The woods appear to be full of trails, but most of them lead nowhere. When I was a kid, I’d walk in the woods near our house and follow supposed “trails,” imagining that they were Indian trails or deer trails, or bear. Usually, the trail would dissolve into nothingness and leave me standing in the center of a briar patch. We call these rabbit trails. When we stop relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide and lose our way, we become susceptible to all kinds of worldly rabbit trails. We think these trails will lead to fulfillment, but they never do. Are you chasing a rabbit trail right now?
Lesson 3) When you’ve lost your way, don’t trust your feelings, trust your instruments. When I finally broke out the compass and map, I had an incredibly difficult time believing that I was headed in the exact opposite direction. I’m headed east? That can’t be right! I looked at the map and the compass and double and triple checked it. It was really hard to turn around. To do so meant admitting that I had been going in the wrong direction for a long time. Even in spite of all of the evidence, a part of me still thought, “Maybe if I just go a little farther, I’ll find that trail.”
God’s word and Spirit are the only true north in our lives. God has given us completely reliable resources, but like Peter walking on the water, the surest way to sink is to get our eyes off Jesus and trust in our own strength and resources.
I learned a lot on the trail that day. Sometimes people think they are lost but they aren’t, they just need to keep walking. Sometimes people know they’re lost and the battle is to find the humility and courage to turn around. But the absolute worst place to be, is to be lost and not know it. It’s from that place of arrogance or ignorance that our souls are truly in danger.
Which describes you?