I’m a hiker. Correction: I want to be a hiker. I am an amateur hiker. There are expert hikers out there. I admire them and watch them to see what makes an expert hiker an expert. My “gear” is a dead giveaway that I’m not a professional. I recently bought my first pair of hiking boots, their lack of wear is like a neon sign flashing: NOVICE, NOVICE, NOVICE. I carry a boring backpack. I don’t have a Nalgene water bottle or a Patagonia hiking shirt.
As a pro-hiker watcher, I’ve been utterly befuddled by trekking poles. While I’m generally easily impressed with hiking gear, those darn poles have always looked sort of ridiculous to me. It looks like someone is trying to ski where there’s no snow. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how in the world carrying a couple of sticks through the wilderness would make navigating the trails easier. But the expert hikers use them.
My husband and I planned a weekend of hiking for our 15th anniversary. Yes, we really did that. Some couples celebrate their anniversary in Hawaii or at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or on a cruise. Not us. We try to kill ourselves. On our way out of town we made a stop at the outlet mall and on a whim I bought a cheap set of trekking poles. Bright yellow ones. After we checked into our cabin and grabbed a quick lunch, I laced up my (brand-spanking) new hiking boots, grabbed my shiny trekking poles and we were off.
As we arrived at the trailhead, I tried to figure out my poles. There are multiple places to adjust the height and convoluted straps for your hands. I felt like a little girl playing dress up, trying to balance in her mom’s heels and keep her purse on her shoulder. “Am I doing it right? Do I look like a moron?” I asked my husband as we hiked along. I would walk with the poles for a while and then fold them up and put them away when I felt like a complete idiot. After a bit I’d get them back out and try them again. The hike took about 2 hours and by the end I was using my poles more than I wasn’t. I passed them to Eli (hubby) for him to try and after just a few seconds I missed them. We were climbing up some rock stairs and I realized that the silly sticks were actually making it easier. When I didn’t have them, I wished I did.
The next day we tackled a 7 mile hike. It was somewhere around 1,600 feet downhill to an impressive waterfall and then something like 10,000,000 feet back up (I don’t even know how that’s possible but I swear that’s what it felt like). On our way down we commented about how difficult it was going to be to get back up. Truthfully, the trip down was no cakewalk…I complained….a lot. Once we reached the destination and admired the waterfall, I decided I was glad we had done it and I determined to NOT COMPLAIN on our way back up. Every time I would feel a gripe brewing I would squash it with a praise. “I’m thankful for my legs. I’m thankful for my feet. I’m thankful I don’t have ingrown toenails. I’m thankful for shade. I’m thankful for the breeze. I’m thankful I don’t have asthma. I’m thankful for my husband. I’m thankful for our kids. I’m thankful we didn’t bring our kids.” And do you know what else? I was thankful for those ridiculous trekking poles.
I still don’t really understand the mechanics of it. I don’t feel like when I’m using trekking poles they are making much of a difference. It doesn’t seem like I’m relying on them or putting much pressure on them. I don’t feel as if they’re pulling me along or lifting me up. Honestly, all I really feel is like I’m not doing it right. But even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, I was somehow doing something that helped.
As I was hiking, marveling at nature and trying to figure out how the trekking poles were actually helping, I thought about the Holy Spirit. I recently facilitated a 7-week study on the Holy Spirit. God bless the group of women that patiently stuck with me through it. We talked and questioned and discussed and laughed and cried our way through Francis Chan’s ‘Forgotten God’. In the end, I still hadn’t figured it (him) out. How can God be insinde of me? How can He direct my paths but give me free will? How can I know that I am following His will and not my own? I DON’T GET IT. I grew frustrated and then realized that I was missing the whole point.
The Holy Spirit isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It isn’t a hidden treasure to be found. It isn’t a goal to be earned. It is a gift. A GIFT. A gift to be used. It is access to superhuman amounts of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, and even self-control. I don’t understand it but I’m trying to live like I own it. I lean on Him when I’m rundown. I think I start each day with 10 pieces of patience and, more often than not, I’ve used them all up by 10:00a.m. But when mine are gone, I dip into the Holy Spirit’s supply. Self-control? I think God shorted me on that when he created me (and gave Eli my share) but when I fail, I can borrow from the Holy Spirit. Joy? Well, even when I’m climbing straight up a 10 million foot slope, I can be thankful for the good stuff.
I still don’t understand it. I still don’t feel like I’m engaging the Holy Spirit correctly. I still feel silly sometimes even talking about the Holy Spirit because I’m such an amateur. I still occasionally ask myself, “Am I doing it right?” I still don’t understand the mechanics of Him. I still don’t feel like I’m really relying on Him or putting much pressure on Him. I don’t always recognize that He is pulling me along and lifting me up. But somehow, even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, God is helping me along.
Shiny yellow trekking poles and the Holy Spirit. Who knew?