Don’t Follow Me

Lake Ediza

Dear Will:

When you’re camping in the backcountry, something tugs at you, and you pretty much HAVE to throw some water and a protein bar into a daypack and head off to find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. Thus on a recent trip to the High Sierras I found myself wobbling across a log bridge and climbing a massive chunk of rock to see what I could see. My climb took me into the midst of a tangle of streams where I beheld a lovely view of Lake Ediza below. But THEN, I looked back toward our campsite and beyond, through an opening in the distant trees, and I saw this:

Double Waterfall

Makes you want to grab your daypack and go, doesn’t it? I immediately declared to anyone who would listen and several who wouldn’t that tomorrow we were all going to head off in search of the double waterfall. Which we did. Now as it turned out, that cascade tumbled down the mountain just 10 minutes from our campsite, leaving us plenty of time to respond again to that familiar tug: “Where does all of this water come from? Let’s find out.”

So we kept climbing, following the stream up and up until we came to a glacier scooped into the base of some magnificent, jagged peaks. From underneath the ice, you could see the meltwater forming drip by drip, a beard-stroking reminder of where double waterfalls ultimately come from. Wow.

Meltwater

The trip back to our campsite seemed simple enough: retrace our steps along the intermittent path that meandered more or less along the stream. We talked as we clambered over rocks and ducked under branches, distracted by the wonder of wilderness. Imagine my surprise, then, when the path I had chosen spilled out onto the shore of the lake, well below the spot where we had set up camp. What?

Somehow we had lost our way. No, lost is too strong a word, for we knew where we were. We just weren’t where we intended to be. So rather than enjoy a whistling-and-skipping descent beside a mountain stream, we had to trudge and wheeze—up and up—to return from whence we started. (You know how Grandpa talks about walking “uphill both ways” to get to and from school? Well, that day we were Grandpa.) I look back on that pointless detour and I’m dumbfounded. Where did I make the wrong turn? How did I manage to make that hike so much harder than it needed to be? I just don’t get it.

And yet, I do. Figuratively speaking, you might say I have climbed this hill before. How many times have I made a muddle of things in life when a straighter, truer course had already been laid out before me? How often do I still find myself ascending a hill for a second or third time, or worse: straining up an incline I should never have had to climb in the first place? How often do I become distracted from my purpose or think I know a better way, only to find myself suffering some self-imposed adversity? So dumb. So unnecessary. And way too typical.

I know: It need not be this way. On Sunday mornings we sometimes sing that Jesus “marked the path and led the way.” All we have to do is follow. So I declare to anyone who will listen (and several who won’t): Let’s find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. But don’t follow me. Follow HIM.

meme-bible-john-way-truth-1341848-wallpaper

PW

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A Letter to Myself

Dear Will:

You know that feeling you get when you are working too many hours and getting too little sleep? When you have too much to do and too little time to do it? When you do none of the things that matter particularly well? When you arrive at the end of the day—day after day—feeling as if you haven’t accomplished half of what you needed to or any of what you wanted to?

That’s how I feel.

I’m reminded of a backpacking trip I took several years ago over Piute Pass in the High Sierras. We were planning to stay for a week beside the Golden Trout Lakes, a breathtaking spot some 11,000 feet above sea level. Because of the length of our stay, we were all carrying 35-40 pounds of gear and supplies. The hike in would take most of the day.

It wasn’t so bad at first. Fortunately, the incline was not steep, so we never found ourselves working extra hard. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view or refill our water bottles, none of us in a great hurry to “arrive.” The trouble was that some in our party were not in especially good shape. Their stops became more frequent, and as the “sweeper” in our party I couldn’t go any faster than our slowest hiker. Consequently, the load on my back began to take its toll. By and by, I wanted nothing more than to drop my pack.

I remember the almost out-of-body experience I had when we finally arrived at the Golden Trout Lakes. When at last I could remove my heavy load, I felt like I might float away. I felt almost like an astronaut on the moon, so light was I after carrying that load for hour after hour. What a relief! What joy! What ecstasy!

I have often thought of how many lessons on the Atonement were contained within that hiking experience. Above all, I have thought about how Christ’s suffering for us is in very fact a promise to carry our burdens for us—as if he were offering to shoulder our pack, to give us the gift of relief. His life and death embodied his eternal invitation: “Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Ultimately, it was Jesus’ compassion—his willingness to suffer with us and for us—that best expressed His great love for us.

These lines from a favorite hymn also come to mind, offering good counsel to one such as I who is weighed down by life:

How gentle God’s commands! How kind his precepts are!
Come, cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.
Beneath his watchful eye, his Saints securely dwell;
That hand which bears all nature up shall guard his children well.
Why should this anxious load press down your weary mind?
Haste to your Heav’nly Father’s throne and sweet refreshment find.
His goodness stands approved, unchanged from day to day;
I’ll drop my burden at his feet and bear a song away.

Hmmm. That’s excellent advice for someone like me. Perhaps this time I should mail this letter to myself. . . .

PW