I stooped down and touched my finger to the cool mountain water. From that gentle touch, my body instantly felt refreshed. There was almost a magical quality to this place…
Sarah and I were about to begin a hike up to the summit of Table Rock with my brother, Evan, and his wife, Jamie. There was a deck at the trailhead overlooking a serene waterfall. I simply couldn’t help myself. I had to feel the water.
The cool refreshment would soon wear off as we began our 3.6 mile hike to the summit. The trail was described as “severe” at the camp entrance. About five minutes in, I was ready to call that a gross undersell.
But every time I started to notice pain in my legs, there would be an opening in the trees for the mountains to show off their unbeatable views. It was just a taste of what was to come, but it gave me a boost of energy to get up the next ridge.
My brother was leading the way, then came Jamie and Sarah. I was bringing up the rear. My eyes were glued to the ground in front of me watching for the next foothold. That’s when I got to thinking…
Focusing on the Next Step
A few weeks back, I wrote about Jeremiah 29:11. I was reminded of that verse again as we made our way up the trail to Table Rock.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
I believe that God does have plans for us. He doesn’t force us to follow them, but the plans are there nonetheless.
It’s kind of like a trail.
Someone, years ago, went up that mountain and carved a trail through the rocks and trees. This was done systematically with a plan in mind. The goal was to provide a path for others to travel.
But there wasn’t anything stopping me from stepping off the path. I could choose to make a foray into the brush and brambles if I wanted to.
As long as I followed the path, though, I knew I’d make it to the summit. The trailblazers set it up that way. Really the only thing I needed to do was focus on the very next step. Enough of those, and I’d make it to the top.
Along the way, there were many picture-worthy sights. And it wasn’t only the spectacular mountain views. Trees, lizards and flowers joined us on our trip up the mountain. Many times, I wanted to pull out my phone and take a picture.
Again, life is like that.
There are many good things that seek to pull us off the path. Taking pictures of the scenery is a great thing. But it would force me to take my eyes off the path. And that would open me up to tripping and falling.
Good things — work, friends, even family — can take our focus off the next step. Those things aren’t bad. Again, they’re good…great even! But it is our job to be in the present and understand what takes priority in that given moment.
Sometimes, you need to take a break from hiking. That’s a great opportunity to snap a few photos and take in the view. It’s also a very necessary opportunity for rest, but I’ll get to that in a second. I can tell you this for sure, you’ll quickly feel pain if you’re trying to take photos while hiking. I learned that one the hard way.
You have to be in the present when you’re hiking. It’s all about that next step. You need to focus on the exact spot where you’ll place your feet next.
But what about the views and the pictures? You need to cherish the experience somehow right? You see, I think that’s where trust comes in. I’m trusting that the people who blazed this trail are leading me to a place that will offer great views and photo opportunities. I’m agreeing to focus on my next steps as long as the trail leads me to a place that’s worth it. You tell me if I made a good choice…
Yeah, it was worth it.
Did I stop along the way to take photos, too? Yes, of course. But when I did, our entire group stopped together to take it all in. It’s not like we’re robots. Of course we needed to stop along the way.
Hey look, another metaphor for life!
We can’t always be on the go. As much as our culture of smartphones and social media would like to say otherwise, we still need rest. As we travel the path of life, rest and reflection become very important. I’m only 23, and I’ve already seen that in my own life.
On our hike, those times of rest became perfect opportunities to take in my surroundings and, yes, grab a few photos. Again, those things are great! But they have their time and place.
The Importance of Community
Along the way, we met other hikers. Some were going up, some were going down. Those coming down would usually give us an update on how far we had to go. Some would offer encouragment, some would quietly pass on their way down the mountain.
But it was nice to know that there were others experiencing what I was going through.
There was one group, in particular, that we kept running into on our hike. It was a group of three men. I assumed one was the grandfather, one was the father and the other was the son. Three generations traveling up the mountain together.
Whenever we would see them, we’d share a laugh and words of encouragment. We’d always leave by saying, “See you at the next stop.”
Whether I realized it in the moment or not, looking back, that meant a lot. Knowing that there were others on the trail with us helped when we got to difficult parts of the trail.
Obviously, there was another aspect of community on our hike. The quality time with my brother, sister-in-law and my wife was extremely special. Shared experiences like that really help grow relationships. This particular shared experience is one that I will always treasure.
Reaching the Top
As we made our way to the top of the trail, the trees began to clear. Finally, we reached the point that gives Table Rock its name. We had hiked over three miles to an elevation of over 3,000 feet. As we looked out over the breathtaking views before us, we certainly felt a sense of accomplishment.
Guess what? Another metaphor for life.
Don’t miss out on celebrating successes. We felt so good about reaching the top. We relished in our accomplishment as we ate our lunch on the bald outcropping of the mountain. Even after the strenuous climb and some nervous moments on slippery rocks, we were all smiles as we celebrated together.
We didn’t spend all day basking in our hiking glory. But for a few moments, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. We knew that soon, we’d be faced with a new labor — the hike down.
Before we left, though, I noticed a lone tree standing resolute at the top of the mountain. It had seemingly grown right out of the rock. For all its hard work, it had the great reward of this beautiful view every day. I don’t really have much else to say about it other than I really liked that tree. I hope I see it again someday.
The Journey Back
We made our way back down the mountain. I had taken the lead at this point. I was beginning to feel pretty confident in my hiking abilities. So I started going faster. Hiking down is easier anyways, right?
And that’s when I twisted my ankle.
With that, I give you the final life lesson from our hike — don’t get too big for your britches. Even experts take it slow sometimes. And slowing down allows you to enjoy the experience even more. I began to notice things I hadn’t noticed on the way up. And my ankles made it back in one piece.
Once we finally made it back to the car, I felt sore. The trail had done a number on me. But that magical quality I felt when I dipped my fingers in the water at the beginning of the hike lingered with me. I felt changed somehow. It’s certainly something I’ll never forget. As we left the parking lot, I came to realize it wasn’t anything magical at all.
It was life.
Hi, my name is Aaron Charles. I’m a writer and marketing account executive from Indiana. You can connect with me on Twitter, Medium or Instagram. My wife, Sarah, and I run a Medium publication called Cooking With Sarah that documents our weekly cooking adventures. You can also connect with me at my website. Thanks for reading!