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Topic: Paths (05/17/04)
TITLE: Off the Beaten Path
By Patrick Whalen
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I pulled my map from its pouch and studied it for several minutes, resolving that I had no idea where I was. The forest canopy above was so thick that I could not distinguish any landmarks, rendering my map essentially useless. I was scared and nervous. I looked to the sky and strained my eyes to try to see beyond tree and limb, then I said out loud, “God this is not how it is supposed to be!”
I had taken a week off from everything and had ventured to the mountains of New Mexico for some rest and spiritual rejuvenation. A recent divorce and other setbacks had left me waning in my faith and I wanted answers. It was the next to last day of my excursion and I had been enjoying the peace and tranquility of the deep woods. I still had not received any great or prophetic insight into the mind of God or what He wanted for my life. I planned an energetic hike for that morning to reach the pinnacle of 11,000 feet at the top of the White Mountain.
The morning was absolutely gorgeous! I hopped in the car and arrived at the trailhead within a few minutes. The trail was marked very well so I checked my gear and headed out. I wove my way up the switchbacks that hugged a scenic mountain meadow and checked my map before proceeding into the shade of the forest. I kept check on the trail to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Within an hour I was confident that the trail was well marked and let my thoughts drift. I became obsessed more with the birds and squirrels than on the path before me.
I checked my watch and realized I should have come across a point on the trail that turned sharply to my left. I stopped walking and looked around me. Fear gripped me as I realized I was not on anything resembling a trail. For an hour I frantically searched for anything that resembled a trail but found nothing. I came into a small clearing and took out my map. I made a guess that the clearing was a particular spot on the map. To the East I saw another clearing and tried to make it fit the map. I headed in that direction.
I then came to the edge of a small cliff and my choices were few. It wasn’t a high, harrowing cliff but more of an angled ledge with plenty of protruding steps for navigation. I descended the cliff and landed in some very loose but deep soil at the bottom. There were signs that some animal had recently been stirring there. At one point in the mountainside, a small trickle of water escaped the side of the rock and formed a line of mud in the soil. I noticed an animal track in the mud and upon closer inspection I knew it belonged to some kind of really big member of the cat family. It was time to get out of there and I really had no idea where “there” was!
I took perhaps ten steps when the strong scent of a very dirty animal struck my nose. My muscles locked and I knew in my mind I was lunch for a hungry bear. I took two more steps and brushed some foliage with my hiking stick. The two giant Elk emerged with a loud grunt right in front of me and with two giant leaps were gone again into the forest. I don’t know if I passed out or not but when I looked at my watch five minutes had passed and I was still standing. My panic mode set in and I ran straight down the mountain and smack dab into the middle of the patch of nettles.
I swatted at the nettles to make a clear path but no matter how hard I tried, they still struck at my knees. I emerged from the patch onto a rocky shore that cradled a running stream. I took out my map just as two hikers approached on the opposite side. They were on a trail! Did I scream for help? No. We simply exchanged waves as they passed by.
I waded across the stream, took to the trail and within an hour was back to civilization. I was able to get a ride back to my car and returned to my camp. I ate a small supper and rested thoughtfully in my hammock. I was somewhat upset that I had wanted to get some answers from God on this retreat but nothing had come. Then it hit me.
Just because you start out on a well-marked path does not always mean that it will stay that way. You must prepare yourself to be diligent to the task at hand and not be constantly sidetracked by the feel-good things around you. If you don’t prepare and remain diligent you could very well end up in a situation where you are dodging obstacles. Once you are off the path, things in your way will poke and prod at you no matter how hard you fight to clear the way.
The clearest lesson God taught me that week was no matter how well prepared you think you are, if you insist on going at it alone, you are asking for trouble. A friend can be there to help keep you on the path while you are too busy watching the birds.