Joy In Your Journey
Camp stove. Fuel. Pot. Fork. Breakfast. Dinner. Coffee. Water purifier. Granola bar. Tea bags. Extra socks. Sleeping bag. Down jacket. Long underwear. Change of pants. Fleece vest. Mere Christianity. Water bottle. Apple. Toilet paper. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. Pack cover. Fujifilm XT2. Coffee mug. Cord to hang a bear bag. More extra socks. Trekking poles. A hat. Phone charger/lantern. Overnight permit.
With one last run-through of my mental checklist, I hefted the pack on my back. I adjusted the shoulder straps, clipped the hipbelt and tightened the chest strap.
And I headed to the trailhead.
I set out at a brisk pace, trying to put some distance between myself and the gaggle of spring break-ing college students who had congregated around the map. For the first mile and a half, my pace was consistent. I stayed a healthy distance between two small groups as the trail slowly climbed next to a stream. We came to a bridge that led to a stone stairway up through Arch Rock. People stopped on the narrow bridge to take pictures. I made my way up and down the creek, enjoying the babble of water and noticing the way that the moss covered the rocks.
After another mile or so, I found all of the college students that had passed me. They were congregated under a cliff face called Alum Cave. The sandy ground provided a place to rest. Eating a banana and sipping some water, I chuckled. The temperature was noticeably cooler at this elevation; that didn’t stop them from engaging in typical college student shenanigans… the boys pulled their shirts off and took photos with the mountains and valleys and trees in the background. I hoped they were going to turn back.
But they didn’t. Instead, they took off on the path to the peak. Some of them jogging. I gave them time and distance. I noticed the chill in the air, but knew that I would warm up as soon as I started moving. Another deep breath and the pack went on my back.
I was halfway there, having gained about 1,200 feet in elevation so far. Over the next two and a half miles, I would cover another 1,500 feet. Living in middle Tennessee and having explored almost every corner of the state, I’d done my share of hiking. But normally (especially with a pack), I stuck to trails that covered miles… not elevation. This trail, this mountain, wasn’t about the miles, though. It was about proving to myself that I could do the things that seemed too big.
And I was halfway there.
I made slow progress. The pack seemed to get heavier the higher I climbed. College students wearing t-shirts and Chacos zoomed past me. As I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, I started questioning myself.
Why wasn’t I as good as them? Why did I have so much stuff? Why did I have to wear such heavy boots?
They were taking off up this mountain like it was a stroll through a field of daisies.
Then I came across a pair of guys who weren’t. They had stopped to rest and take in the view down below. As I slowly trekked past, I smiled and told them, “Just enjoy the journey.” As I continued hiking, those guys and I leap-frogged one another. When I would stop to take a break, they’d scoot past me. And when they stopped, I’d move on.
I encountered others like them as I made my way to the top of the mountain. People who thought my journey was cool. People who felt emboldened by my choice to hike alone. People who couldn’t believe that I would willingly spend the night alone… outside.
Eventually I made it to the top. I dropped my pack in the shelter and pulled on some extra layers. I dug out my stove and pot to make some hot tea. I took the mug of tea and began wandering around this mountaintop.
I made it.
I didn’t make it quickly. I didn’t make it wearing Chacos and a t-shirt. Instead, I made it with 20 extra pounds on my back. I made it to watch the sunset. I made it to be one of three people on top of the mountain that night.
There were some low points on the trail. There were moments (much like the moments in the past couple of years of my life) when I felt like I was doing it wrong. I was falling behind everyone else who kept moving forward. I wasn’t good enough or strong enough or smart enough to keep up.
Life… that hike… Neither of those are about “keeping up.” They are both about learning something on the journey and appreciating the moment when you arrive. Your journey will not look like anyone else’s journey, and you have to find joy in that.
This reminds me of the disciples, who were all living a different life before Jesus called them to ministry. Simon Peter and Andrew were busy fishing. James and John were mending their nets, working alongside their father. (Matthew 4: 18-22) Matthew (Levi) was just hanging out in his tax booth (Matthew 9:9-12) Philip was simply minding his own business when the Lord called him. And Nathanael questioned whether it was even a worthwhile endeavor! (John 1: 43-51)
Their prior roles in life did not preclude them from stepping into ministry. Jesus called them and they responded. Then he sent them, all of them, with the same authority and instructions: to minister to others.
It’s important for you to remember that your life is the life that God set out for you. You shouldn’t try to make your life look “Instagram perfect” or like the life of your best friend. You shouldn’t complain when things don’t go as smoothly as you planned. Instead, you should seek to live your life in a way that gives God the glory. In James, we are told,
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (3:13-18)
If you are obsessed with achieving something so you can check it off a list, you’ve lost sight of the journey God has for you. If you are only focused on achieving that next “thing” because your neighbor did it first, you’ve lost sight of the plans God has for your life. If you can’t find joy in simple things anymore because you’re missing something else, then you’ve lost sight of how God has blessed you along the way.
You have to let go of whatever pride is wrapped up in the life you planned and celebrate the journey that God has set out for you. Stop comparing your journey to everyone else’s journey. So what if your life looks different from everyone else’s? If you are seeking wisdom from the Lord, you will find peace with where He is taking you.
If you’re struggling with your journey right now, I’d like you to just sit still for a minute and consider these words from the first chapter of James:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (1:2-4, 12)
Joy will only come when you remain in the Lord. Once you mark something off your list, something new is bound to pop up. If you continue to seek earthly pleasures and satisfaction, it will never be enough. Focus on what the Lord has done and will do, and then you’ll begin to understand the joy in your own journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Elizabeth has been doing life in Nashville, TN for five and a half years. She currently work for a faith-based nonprofit as an after-school program coordinator...and wearer of many other hats. Outside of work, she is known for her baked goods (it's been suggested that she start a "Muffin Ministry") and her tendency to disappear into the woods at random intervals. You can find her on Instagram at @emmyelle.