For When It Is Dark

My family doesn’t always get it right out on the trail. Just last year we made a string of blunders which led to one of our scarier wandering moments. The blunders:

  • We jumped out of the car and onto the trail after spending much of the preceding night and that day on the road.
  • We ignored how much fuel and water our bodies would require for the six-mile round trip to Harney Peak.
  • We set off at 3:00 in the afternoon on a four to five-hour hike with sunset a mere four and a half hours away.
  • We made hurry a key component of our hike’s success. Then we lingered. Twice.

It was as though we had never hiked before, especially with kids. Our youngest was a fan of neither hiking nor hurrying. Stopping for snacks out on the trail is a big deal to all three. From our stockpile of nutritionally worthy and just-because-we’re-on-vacation foods we opted to take one fun size candy bar per person. Not trail mix. Not granola bars. Not fruit. One tiny candy bar per person. My husband and I were road weary and stiff. We would not be breaking any speed records this day.

In spite of our poor planning, it was a fabulous hike. The day was perfect; the trail, lovely; and the view, beautiful. We climbed and explored at the peak before turning back to the trail, where we made the choice to, rather than returning the way we had come, take the alternate route back to the trailhead. We stood for long moments to watch a mule deer pair graze in the drying grass among the trees. As stood enjoying the view, the sky took on the melancholy look that it sometimes gets when it will soon give up the sun.

The sun dropped fast. Now we hurried. At least, we hurried to the extent that tired, hungry, slightly dehydrated hikers with children can hurry. As the sky darkened, our pace slowed. My eyes searched ahead for the unfamiliar trail. My steps became small and timid. Occasional holes, rocks, exposed roots and loose gravel, my nemesis under the best of circumstances, made what had been an easy hike suddenly fraught with danger. As difficult as it was to see the trail at my feet, it was impossible to see what was ahead or to the side. It was eerie and uncomfortable and made clear to me my place in the world. I was beginning to have visions of us needing to give it up and spend the night out there, huddled together on a rock for warmth, waiting for morning to continue our journey to the car. It was in this moment of desperation that my intrepid husband broke out the flashlight and two headlamps that he had stashed in his pack.

Everything changed.

Where there had been darkness, there was light, and right where I needed it: on the trail directly in front of my feet. Now, rather than cautiously putting my foot down where I hoped it could safely go before taking the next halting step, I could simply take the next step. Now my pace could match our urgency to get out of those rocky hills where the mountain lion dwells. Now I could walk with confidence, all because of the pool of light on the path.

While I don’t relish those moments in life which bring the level of discomfort that I felt that night, I do love those in which the truth of scripture intersects unmistakably with my life. This was one of those.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

What I want this verse to mean is that with the Word as a light, the road ahead as well as the landscape in every direction will be clearly lit illuminated and I will be able to see as far ahead as I would like. What my experience on the trail showed me is that this is not how it works. Such a light cuts through just enough darkness to light up the space to make continuing the journey possible. While not much, it is enough.

Just as I don’t always get it right on the trail, I don’t always get it right in my life. I have been guilty this year of forgetting our hike in the dark. I have struggled with the darkness on the path, wasting energy in a vain attempt to see what lies ahead. Worse, I have occasionally ignored the light because it was not where I wanted to walk.

I want to remember what I learned that night on the trail, to next time get it right knowing that even though I had no idea how far it was to the trailhead, what route the trail would follow, or how long we would be walking into the night, there was just enough light for each of my next steps and that I made to my destination, the trailhead. What was that journey but a long series of steps?

And what is this life but a long series of steps taken by faith?

2 thoughts on “For When It Is Dark

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