Very early in our marriage, shortly after our post-honeymoon arrival in France, a friend invited us to go for a walk with him. We eagerly accepted, thinking this would be a good way for Sue to get to know some of the folks I’d met the previous year. On Saturday morning, Thierry and his wife, Eliane, picked us up, and 45 minutes later we pulled into the carpark at the trailhead. It was a bright sunny day and promised to be a refreshing time out in nature. Our goal was to arrive at a mountain inn for an early lunch before returning to the car. So far, so good. It turned out that this was no beginner’s hike. For nearly two hours the path in front of us sloped upward through lovely dense forest, and the occasional clearing (we newlyweds began furtively glancing at one another with the unspoken question: How much more of this can two urbanites handle?). Thierry began to notice our flagging spirits and good-humoredly teased us about our tenderfoot attitudes, along with encouragement that it wasn’t much further. By the time we spotted the inn in the distance, we also noticed that the sky wasn’t as clear as before. By the time we finished our lunch, the weather had turned and at our departure, there was a heavy rain falling. With no sign of it letting up, and knowing we had a 2-hour hike back down the mountain, there was no option but to head out (sans rain gear). Soon all four of us were soaked to the skin, enjoying the bracing wind as it drove the rain straight into our faces. This leg of our trek seemed much longer than the first, and much more silent, too. At long last, back at the trailhead, we stopped into the inn there for a cup of hot cocoa (I cherish a photo Sue took of an exhausted, dripping-wet Thierry leaning back on a bench, looking as miserable as he’d ever been in his life).
I often talk about our life in Christ as a journey to the Father’s heart, perhaps making it sound like a walk in the park, but the above story, too, can parallel chapters of our story. Unexpected invitations sometimes lead us into territory rich with obedience’s provisions but territory not at all of our choosing. The writer to the Hebrews says even Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered (5:8). Other segments may be dizzying mountaintop experiences so intense we need them to stop just to catch our breath. Then, there are the monotonous spans during which, because of their unchanging landscape, we may question our purpose, our calling, even God’s presence. Still others get so painful, we feel we might collapse altogether, only to discover the reason for the discomfort was our resistance to God’s new leading (unfortunately, I too often recognize this only in the rearview mirror). We discover, with the accumulation of these varied episodes, that God has, all along, been doing His special restoration work in us, maturing us, strengthening our faith, tuning our hearts to hear more clearly the voice of His Spirit, and transforming us more and more into His image. And at the end of the journey we’ll declare with the songwriter: ‘still my soul will sing Your praise unending . . . ten thousand years and then forevermore!’ More about this fascinating Jesus-following, Jesus-alongside, journey tomorrow at 10 AM, 3 PM, 4 PM. PD