It has been several years now since I have actually experienced it, but this past weekend I was on the Appalachian Trail as it travels through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and while there encountered many “AT Thru-hikers” as they are called. These are people who have taken time out of their lives to do an activity that many of them would say is on their “bucket list” of things they want to accomplish in their lives before they die.
That activity is simply to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Several of the people we met were attempting to hike the entire 2,198 miles from Springer, Ga. to Katahdin, Maine this summer. While that was not my goal – my buddies and I hiked only about eight of those miles this weekend – the lessons learned in these short three days were indeed significant and applicable to the whole journey of life which we all face each day we awake. There are four lessons which this week I would like to share which may help each of us to carry on:
• Travel Light. Over the course of these 10 years, if there is one lesson I have learned it is to travel as light as possible. We tend to take everything we think we will ever need as a resource for living on these hiking ventures and there are many things which, after the trip is complete, we discover we rarely, if ever, used. These are nice, but not necessary conveniences. I have learned that I do not need to take “the kitchen sink” with me on my hiking adventures. When traveling on the trail, it is important to think about what you carry in terms of ounces, not pounds.
The same can be said of our spiritual walk was well. Far too often we carry our own spiritual and emotional baggage with us on our daily hike through life. It only weighs us down. Jesus tells us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
• Travel Right. When hiking in the wilderness it is important to stay on the trail. There are a lot of ways one can get in trouble “out there,” roots to stumble over and rocks that will trip you up without even the slightest provocation. There are little side trails that look tempting to follow, but they can also lead you quickly off course and confuse your sense of direction and bearings, so staying on the trail is an important factor in completing the journey with success.
Obviously, the same is also true in life. It is very easy to become distracted by all the stuff that life throws at us. If we are not careful, we can become lost and in desperate need for a new compass to get us back on course. We need to never forget to stay on the path and keep moving forward.
• Travel with Delight. Often, hiking up a trail in the woods can become tedious and yes, even boring. I mean after all, one tree looks just the same as the next one, right? Talking with the thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, one lesson I learned was they all do not have the same goals each and every day. Some were planning to hike 20 miles, some others were planning to hike only four. And some were even planning to take an extra day right where they were to rest and refresh for the remaining part of the journey.
That leads me to repeat a lesson I have learned many times and have shared here previously. That lesson is that the journey is the destination. So, we should relax a bit and enjoy the journey. Sometimes it is easy to become so focused on living our lives for God that we forget that God put us here to enjoy our lives as we are living them. We do not want to miss the beauty of the life we are living simply because we have a job to do and not enough time to do it. Relax. Take life one step at a time. And enjoy the view.
• Travel Tight. One of the lessons I gained from this trip is that we should not do it alone. I was with two of my buddies this weekend. A few weeks ago, I did something similar with four other friends. The challenges one faces on the trail can be difficult for one person to do them all alone. It is important to have someone with whom you can share the experiences you have. Many of the thru-hikers have given themselves nicknames, much like a CB radio buff has a handle. They are known along the trail as “The Raven” or “The Sparrow” or “Waffle” or some other nickname they or some of their compadres come up with. The point is that they can share experiences together and enjoy those memories together.
That is also an important part of life. It is in many, even most, ways not meant to be lived alone. The Scriptures tell us that: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
The places we go, the experiences we have, all are meant to demonstrate to us the faithfulness of God in a wonderful way, and to help us see Him in all His glory – and to share that glory with everyone we encounter along the way. So as you and I travel through life, may we travel light, travel right, travel with delight, and travel tight – all to the glory of God.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.