As worship walks go, the time in Whitney Canyon was a dud. I had jammed the hike into a full weekend, squeezing a few hours out of a Saturday morning, and it felt rushed. I was anxious about a big event coming up the next night at church, and was mulling over some significant ministry issues. I had been spiritually lazy that week, and was frankly embarrassed to come before God that way. I was distracted, and had to admit the obvious – this Sabbath Hike was more hike than sabbath.
I had planned to start with the familiar and short Whitney Canyon trail, then cross to the next valley and hike Elsmere Canyon for the first time. But when I came to the intersection of the two trails, I was tempted to give up. The parking lot was just a few hundred yards away, I felt like I had already wasted 90 minutes, and I had a lot to do at the house. I stood there and weighed my options – go on, or go home? Declare defeat and come back some other day, or stretch out the hike and hope for things to change?
What made me choose to turn left and cross over to Elsmere? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I love my hikes too much to allow one to crash and burn like that. Maybe I’m too competitive to give up. Maybe I was influenced by the song playing on my iPod as I stood at the intersection – “Gonna Live What I Believe.” For whatever reason, I turned left and hoped for the best.
The best happened. The Elsmere Canyon Creek Trail was everything I hope for on a hike. The grass was green, the creek was flowing (rare in these parts), the air was fresh, and the oak trees were majestic. The canyon slowly narrowed to 50 feet, then to 10 feet, with sheer walls on each side. I lost track of how many times I had to boulder-hop across the creek, and there was more than a little bush-whacking as I followed the increasingly challenging trail. Physically, it was just what I needed.
Spiritually, it was even better. God met me there in a way He hadn’t in Whitney Canyon. The worship songs lifted my spirits and took my mind off my weakness and problems and decisions. My heart filled with big thoughts of God. The distractions were left behind as Jeremiah 6:16 (my theme verse for my worship hikes) once again came true: “Stand by the road and look, and ask for the ancient path where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
I sensed the Lord saying to me, “Elsmere Canyon was here all along. You just needed to set your mind to seek it, find it, and allow it to refresh you.”
“And by the way Mike, what’s true of Elsmere Canyon is also true of Me.”
Wow. How often am I tempted to accept the mediocre as normal in my spiritual life? How often do I settle for the average and the bland, when a little more perseverance might lift me to the extraordinary and the unforgettable? God tells Israel in Jeremiah 29:13 that they will seek Him and find Him when they seek Him with all of their heart – where do I get the idea that a half-hearted search for God should be enough, and that I have the right to give up when it isn’t?
I wonder how many times in a week I find myself at the intersection of Whitney and Elsmere Canyons, choosing between a defeated acceptance of the status quo and a diligent search for a deeper connection with God?
The next time I find myself there, I want to remember this hike. I hope I will turn left, and hope for the best.
Because the best happens.