This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a men’s retreat with my church. It’s always a great time to grow friendships and faith. Getting away from the daily grind helps me focus on the relationships I need to work on, and the next steps I need to take. If I don’t stop and turn the experience into something tangible, then it’s easy to let that experience slip away and be forgotten.

Being Open to Possibilities

On Saturday, myself and a group of guys went on a hike. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had nothing else to do, so it seemed like a good idea. I’m here to grow and build relationships, so I should step out of my comfort zone. It turned out a lot more difficult that I expected. It was 2 miles each way with a 1000 ft elevation change. I haven’t gone on a hike since high school, and it was tough.

On the drive to the trailhead we saw the scenery change from trees to boulders. We parked, loaded up on water, and headed out. The trail was sandy and poorly marked. Every now and then we’d see a single metal post with the word trail, and an arrow pointing off in some vague direction. The area had experienced a fire recently and blackened some of the vegetation. A friend broke off a branch from a small tree that I used as a hiking stick, and the charred wood rubbed on my hand and covered it in soot. Oddly enough, wild mint covered the trail. The aroma of the mint filled the air as we trekked along the path to our destination.

Several times along the way, I wanted to stop and turn back. I knew that every step I took forward was putting me farther away from the car, and that return journey was getting longer. But something inside me didn’t want to give up. I wanted that success of finishing the hike, which is funny, because I didn’t even know what the end looked like.

It was a hill covered in large boulders, and our destination was at the top. At this point my legs are aching, and I’ve done more physical activity in an hour than I have in the last month. The final ascent to the summit required some very minor rock climbing. Not enough to get myself hurt, but enough to make me feel accomplished. At the top of the hill, I took in the view.

Making it to the Top

The view was nice, but it was no Yellowstone or Yosemite. I was also far more excited than anyone else to find the metal marker driven into the rock that marked the summit.

On one hand, that little marker gave me a sense of accomplishment, but I also found it amusingly underwhelming. I’ve been hiking for over an hour, I’ve pushed my body more than it wanted to go, and this is the payoff? A mildly interesting view, and a little piece of metal driven into the rock? Some other human being had climbed these rocks, and put this metal rod at the top so that I would feel good about making it all the way to the end of the trail. Thank you stranger.

Climb to the Right Summit

I’m glad I went on the hike, and I enjoyed the accomplishment of getting to the end, but the entire experience got me thinking about what I could learn.

Left Feeling Empty

Why do so many things in life, that we think we want so badly, feel so empty when we finally get them? Insert whatever it is you’re longing for: affirmation, success, knowledge. We all put something up on a “summit,” and we think that if we finally scratch and claw our way to the top, that it will bring us happiness. But many times, all we find is a little metal marker, and we’re right back to feeling empty.

Maybe we’ve put the wrong thing at the summit. For me, I need to stop putting earthly pursuits at the top, because the only thing that’s going to make me feel complete is my heavenly father. That’s not to say that everything I want in life is bad, but it’s all secondary. I need to make Christ the goal that I’m reaching for. To know him better, to love others like him, and only then will I start to find peace and contentment in everything else. When I’m pursuing Christ, my will starts to align with his, and I become more confident that the path I’m taking is the one he wants for my life.

Life is a Journey

Much of life happens on the journey. Sure, there are markers along the way: weddings, births, jobs, ambiguous signs pointing somewhere up ahead. That final marker at the top of the rock gave me a pretty little bow at the end of the hike, but life rarely comes with such a satisfying ending. If Christ becomes my goal, and my path starts to align with his, then it’s the journey that is important. I already know the goal, and that changes what I do along the way. I need to take advantage of the opportunities I have to love on people and show them there is more to this life than whatever summit they’ve chosen to reach for.

We’re all on a journey. Some of us are happy with where it’s going, and some of us are stuck in a crevice, and feel hopelessly stuck. My encouragement for you is to stop and reevaluate the summit that you’re climbing for. Maybe you know what it should be, but the path you’re on is no longer leading there. Or it could be you’ve been so busy keeping your head down trying to survive that you haven’t stopped to consider where it is you’re going.

There’s only one summit I know that won’t let you down when you get there. Take the time to look up from the trail, refocus on Jesus, and find some people to climb that mountain with. You might get tired, or fall and scrape a knee, but at least the goal is worth it.

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