Walking An Uncertain Path
A month before Mother’s Day our oldest son Jimmy invited me on a backpacking weekend at Red River Gorge with him, his oldest four children and a few friends. He reminded me of my previous statement about wanting to do some hiking with his family. Since the idea sounded intriguing, I quickly responded affirmatively with little consideration about what exactly I was agreeing to do.
In fact, the day arrived before I had made many preparations. After checking the weather and acknowledging that it was only a 36-hour trip, I packed lightly: a change of clothes, rain jacket (cool with a possibility of rain), sleeping necessities, headlamp, a few other basic items, and, of course, the ingredients for s’mores (the indispensable needs).
Upon our arrival early Saturday morning, we divvied up the extra supplies. Thankfully, the three men carried the tents and the bulk of the heavier equipment. By 8:30, we were on our way. Ah, to be hiking with friends and family on a fern, rhododendron and tree-lined path. What could be better?
Well, throughout the day it seemed we descended a mile only to ascend a half mile back up the trail. At one point, we encountered a set of stairs (93 - I counted them). I began to question my spontaneous decision. However, using the mental mantra one foot in front of the other on the day’s ascents sufficed. During breaks we enjoyed some unique lady slippers that a passing hiker excitedly shared with us, beautiful vistas, a grand arch, and most importantly the companionship of fellow hikers. Overall, the 10 miles to our night’s campsite proved enjoyable. The next day’s hike out was equally challenging but much shorter. It was good that I had accepted the offer.
Later I reflected that if I had understood the challenges of the trail ahead of time, I may have declined the invitation. I was glad I hadn’t studied it too closely. That trail, similar to the Catholic liturgical year, is a microcosm of every adult’s life - the highs, the lows, the ordinary days. While we can attempt to prepare for our futures, the truth is that all the preparations in the world cannot reveal what God has in store for us.
Many of us spend our lives planning for tomorrow’s next phases: graduations, weddings, retirement, illness, old age. Insurance and investment companies bank on this preoccupation with our belief that we can control future occurrences. Whoa, before you go cancelling your medical and life insurance, realize that is all a positive part of preparation. The trick is that while we plan as best we can for tomorrow, we need to live in the present realizing that God’s plan is always hidden from our view as was the end of many of the trail’s ascents. So how do we deal with the unknowns in our lives without living in fear and anxiety?
We look to our first guides, Mary and the Apostles. Although none of them knew what saying yes to God’s call entailed, they did it willingly and spent the rest of their lives spreading God’s message of love and eternal life. They did this even after Jesus warned them of their own suffering and persecution.
What was the source of their courage and strength? They, like the saints that followed them, understood the answer: total trust in God’s plan and a total giving over of their lives to God. With that and the grace of God they were able to erase the fears and doubts and blindly follow his path, not theirs.
How can we attain that trust and confidence? A Mother’s Day present from our daughter Laura was a small book, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart,”by Father Jacques Philippe. It has proved helpful in answering the above question. To summarize, Father Philippe suggests sustained prayer, study of the Bible and other religious writings, silence and solitude, and, most importantly, asking God daily for the grace to submit to His plan (a lifelong task).
Why was I so quick to say yes to that hike? I knew I had trustworthy, enjoyable companions with me and the possibility of a new experience. How much more trustworthy and dependable of a guide is there than God, and He is always waiting to point us to new adventures. We need only to reply in the affirmative.