Over Memorial Day weekend, my family enjoyed a 4-day camping trip at Sherando Lake in Virginia. There was zero service, so we were totally unplugged the entire time. It was glorious.
On one particular day, we opted for a pretty strenuous hike.
With our munchkins in tow (7, 4, and 2), my husband and I, along with my husband’s mentor from his high school days (we’ll call him, Coach), started out on the treacherous path of adventure.
We had no idea what was in store for us that day.
After hiking for nearly an hour, we realized we had lost the trail.
We had already crossed the icy river twice, and now we stood staring at it again as it barred our way to the other side. The water raged and dropped deep in several sections and would no doubt sweep my four year old off his feet with one wrong step taking him down the river quicker than we could say, “Turn back.”
All the dangers swirled in my mind of what it would mean to continue, to cross the treacherous river, and I pondered the possibility that we might not find the trail once we reached the other side.
Simultaneously, I riddled in my mind that if we went slow, worked together, and stuck to what years of hiking had taught us we could make it across.
Coach didn’t say so, but his body language agreed with my thoughts. However, Mark and I were the ones with the kids, so he kept mostly silent when it came to deciding what to do.
My husband, the ever cautious one got the final say in the end. He took into consideration children’s energy levels, food and water supplies, and the time frame we originally agreed upon. He listened to our thoughts which didn’t say one way or the other what we wanted to do, and he concluded, “We should turn back.”
So we did.
I pulled up the rear thinking deeply about the choice we were making, and wondering if this was the right decision.
My mind raced. This wasn’t what we came out here to do. We’d barely been gone an hour. We had enough food to get us through the hike, and the cooler with additional food was in the car, and we had plenty of water. The only thing holding us back was the “original plan” and an “agreed upon time frame,” but I sensed something deeper at stake here.
We were afraid. The fear of the unknown was holding us back.
I hurried to catch up and I said, “Guys, wait a second. Why did we choose to do this hike? What are we working for? What is this raging river keeping us from?”
I reminded my husband of a similar moment four years earlier when we dreamed of taking a road trip that would take us 5,000 miles around the U.S. in 40 days. Halfway through that trip my middle son got sick, and we had to delay our travels to get him better.
We were so exhausted; we almost turned back. As a matter of fact, we did pack our things and head for home. We managed to get five miles up the Interstate headed west instead of south, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was all wrong. I blurted out, “Wait, pull over. We need to talk!”
Standing in the woods swatting a buzzing mosquito, I waited for my husband to catch up with my brain process. I reminded him that I asked the same questions in 2014, “Why did we choose to do this road trip? What is the exhaustion keeping us from? What is really going on here?”
I sensed then what I sensed this Memorial Day weekend – fear had a grip on our hearts.
We were afraid of the unknown.
Standing there in the middle of an overgrown path with three little pairs of eyes staring at me and two adult pairs grappling again with the decision to forge ahead or turn back, I asked the question, “What if we had turned back early from our road trip?”
At that moment, my husband and I knew exactly what I was asking, “Can you imagine our life if we hadn’t finished that trip? Can you imagine not only the memories we’d never have stored in our hearts, but the lessons we learned that have carried us through many trials of faith since then? Those things wouldn’t be there for us if we had let fear have the final say!”
In life, we get to choose which path we take.
Sometimes the path smells of honeysuckle and dew covered grass and is peppered with berry bushes and wildflowers. Other times, the path hasn’t been journeyed before, and you’re not quite sure you’ll ever feel the firmness of the path more often taken.
Sometimes you face the raging waters and wonder if it wouldn’t be better, safer to just turn back. There’s more at stake now. There are children you have to get across the rapids safely.
Fear has a funny way of presenting itself as wisdom in times of decision.
But fear is not God’s way. Faith is and so we turned back, and chose to do something hard, to cross that raging river even though our legs quaked and our minds screamed, “Something could go wrong here!”
We plunged forward, and dripping wet we made it to the other side and we finished the hike.
We never found the trail on the way to the top.
We took the path less traveled, and we crossed the raging river several more times before making it to the summit. Sometimes the raging river was the only path available because the dry land had disappeared completely. But when we made it to the top, it felt a little bit like what I imagine Moses on Mount Sinai felt. We were with the Father, and the sight was beautiful to behold.
Going back down was far easier.
We talked with some folks at the top, and we figured out where we went wrong coming up. We corrected the course on the way back down. Several times we discovered just how close we came to finding the trail again, but never went that extra five yards needed to get back on course.
But we learned something that day.
We can do hard things.
We can choose the hard things on purpose even. We can face the raging river as a family … with friends.
Just because something seems impossible, just because something makes us nervous, it doesn’t mean it’s not the right decision. We can’t let fear masquerade as wisdom.
Because we said yes to this one hard moment, we discovered the rapids looked far more treacherous than they actually were. My boys learned to trust Mommy and Daddy to get them through the waters safely. They, too, learned they can do hard things.
Fear almost kept us from experiencing what was the highlight of our entire trip.
What is fear keeping you from today?
What’s holding you back from taking the step of faith God is asking you to take because the road ahead looks hard? Impassable? Impossible?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~Nelson Mandela
Weighing the decisions before us carefully is wise. Wisdom is important. But may we not let fear dress up like a wise man and keep us from the exhilarating the joy and life God has set before us.