Any trail that I have hiked (granted, there have only been a few in my life) has always contained at least two vivid realities – a hopeful destination and undoubtedly a painful switchback or two. We all have the idea of the destination firmly in the forefront of our thoughts as the journey begins. Legs are strong. Lungs are good, and confidence is high. But as the elevation climbs, and the trail gets more difficult, the prize at the end seems to be a distant goal at best.
As the awareness of a long and painful journey settles in, you are confronted with the enduring truth about hiking: it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s here that the trail takes on its second reality, one that is tangible, real, and slippery. The dreaded trail switchback is the trailblazer’s tool to help you ascend heights at greater clip while pushing your physical limits to their edge. Why? Are they some kind of maniacal conservationist? Why would anyone require another human being to traverse something that can only be described as oversized stair steps to a pending cardiovascular-related death?! As dark as it seems, the switchbacks are necessary for a number of reasons. Aside from route efficiency, a less than apparent reason has to do with safety. You see, at this point of the trail, the angle of ascent is so steep that a simple straight trail up the side of the hill would create a far too difficult route, one that could even be considered too dangerous to use.
These sections are typically found later into the trail. They are commonly found at the higher elevations, and therefore closer to the summit or destination. The irony of their location, in relation to the trailhead, is an important one. One would assume that, given their proximity to the destination, anticipation of finishing would be the overwhelming emotion. But instead, anticipation is replaced with a longing for deliverance. The goal is no longer a prize, but relief.
So what happened in those switchbacks that averted the hiker’s mindset away from a conquering one to one of mere survival?
Two forces are at work here. One is simple endurance. The lack of stamina forces everyone into a preservationist mentality. The pain of climbing kicks in and narrows the focus, and things like self-doubt, colorful language, and calling into question one’s common sense are now at the forefront of their mind. The destination is nowhere to be seen, only the next step (literally).
The other force that is present is the inability to recall the trail as a whole. Every trail contains small battles that must be overcome before the war can be won. The trail map said this would happen, but we allow the pain of the journey to misinform our understanding and perspective of the journey as a whole.
I have found myself here a few times. It has robbed me of the bigger picture. I have often lost joy in the journey. Call me a wimp. Question my manhood. Am I soft? Yes, and apparently I have a short memory when it comes to hiking. But this phenomenon isn’t confined to hiking. I’ve seen it a number of times. It’s reared its ugly head in seasons like pondering a new job, the dog days of seminary, and even in recent weeks.
For me, Our Turn was never about finances – at least it shouldn’t be. For me, the corresponding faith journey has been one of dealing with the switchbacks of following God’s trail on this project. The destination is a beautiful thing. I can easily imagine us there, but I want to be there tomorrow. As the spring has worn on and summer has arrived, I find myself in the switchbacks of the journey. The many decisions related to the project’s scope, goals, and financial prudence have been at times burdensome. Sadly and honestly, faith that should help with confidence and clarity has been all too often replaced with self-doubt and faltering lungs. It is here that I have found myself just wanting to have arrived already. It is also here that God has reminded me in various ways, some subtle and others quite vividly, that this journey is a long one.
As we have stated from the outset of Our Turn, God has authored this initiative. He has plans for us that go beyond any physical expansion. Personally, I have learned that His plans for me have had more to do with shaping me than directing me. Sometimes God shapes us for a task or goal with a specific end in mind. Other times, like this one, His pruning is the end. This won’t be the last massive challenge God puts before our church. Frankly, adding space to our Sunwest Campus may be the easiest of them all! But in God’s economy, He always looks to build our faith through success, failure, struggle, and even through stillness.
I hope your journey with Our Turn, certain to contain grueling switchbacks, has resulted in increased faith and stamina for the things of God. God is building Harris Creek forever growing journeys to new and higher summits. Enjoy the hike!