We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight
Posted on May 17 2019
Written by Yvette N.
Each step punctuated the pain in my ankle. I had sixteen miles behind me. I pressed into the trail as the night closed. It grew darker earlier because it had been overcast. The day's destination had to be near. Surveying the landscape, trees and shrubs began to look like shadows. What looked like the silhouette of a bush began to move. My vision adjusted to recognize the furry rump of a black bear. He slowly moved his lumbering body around as I clicked my hiking poles. Surprisingly, a sense of calm came over me. He saw me and just as quickly shot up the side of the mountain. His reaction was everything everyone had told me it would be, should be. Black bears are naturally skittish…thankfully. And I am so very grateful this one showed typical behavior toward humans.
I continued along the footpath singing out loud to make my presence known. As I looked up in the direction the bear went, I discovered a wooden trail sign Hurricane Mountain Shelter…my destination. While I felt no fear and in no way felt threatened, I certainly was not going to set up camp in the place that had drawn such ursine curiosity. It had been hours since I passed another hiker, and the only other place suitable for camping would be another 3.5 miles away. In that moment, I determined that was my only option. I continued with renewed vigor, pushing through the pain of my right ankle brought on by a pair of boots I mistakenly thought would make my feet happy.
After 245 or so miles, I had found a comfortable rhythm and became adept at calculating how long it would take me to get to certain landmarks and found great solace as I got further up the trail. For two years I prepared for the challenges of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I expected physical discomfort, the greatest from my flat feet. But the bigger test would come when fellow hikers on trail grew sparse and night closed in with thoughts of a bear somewhere near. I quickly learned I would add night hiking to my repertoire of outdoor accomplishments, and it was not a goal I was looking to achieve.
Although my eyes adjusted as the light grew dimmer, I knew my sight would succumb to the dark of night, and cloud cover would make it darker as it blocked any light from the heavens. In the stillness and dark of night, my thoughts were amplified and my vision at the mercy of the phone light reaching just before my feet.
Is this what it means to be totally surrendered to God? Had this not been what I was looking to do? AND… did I not choose this? And with God's gentle yes, a faint memory began to surface. I knew the verse, but the tune escaped me until as if a divine hand removed the cobwebs of the mind…Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path... (Ps 119:105). I sang these words many times before, but now it became my reality.
As I repeated the lyrics, I began to lace praise and thanksgiving to God for always lighting my path, yet the distance seemed so long in the dark until my light captured the base of a wooden pole that held a sign pointing to a spur trail to the destined campground. I then turned in that direction. The trail became rocky and not as well defined and I began to doubt, taking my focus off of Him. That stretch is supposed to only be .07 miles west of the main trail, but I could not see evidence of campers, not even a faint headlamp or camping lantern…nothing but dark…for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Co 5:7). I prayed that God would show me something…a faint, small light that would show me I was on the right path. Anything.
Just as I began to feel discouraged I heard the soft, vague sound of trickling water somewhere to the right of where I was walking and remembered someone telling me a creek ran through the campground. Was it the same creek?! I continued with no sign of light and it felt like I should have already arrived. Then I saw a flicker of light directly in front of me a long way off. The light grew brighter and larger with each step. Had I finally made it?
Ha! God did not give me a small, faint camp light. He gave me a pillar of fire with flames illuminating a campsite ahead of me. You led them…by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take (Ne 9:12).
My feet met the asphalt of the road to the campground and as I emerged from the trail, I realized the fire I had first seen from afar was no ordinary campfire on the ground contained by a fire ring. This fire raged and its flames towered well beyond the height of the woman who tended to it. She gazed upon it as in a trance and a couple of times fed it fuel to see a burst of flames reach ever higher from a waist-high metal drum. She did not even notice me calling out to her.
I eventually pitched a tent and unlike other nights, took a warm shower in a bath house. I slept well that night.
Early the next morning, I emerged from my tent to find campers milling about, tending to the morning chores of preparing breakfast on makeshift stoves. The air was cool and smelled fresh of the dense pines occasionally interrupted by a hint of bacon or coffee. As I surveyed the place, I looked for the campsite where the woman tended the fire. As I walked up to the site in the light of day, I realize how uniquely placed it was…directly across from the trailhead! The space once occupied by an RV was empty, no sign of anyone having been there. The metal drum was also empty, cold to the touch. Maybe they pulled out early.
That morning I felt at ease, a profound sense of calm. It was a stark contrast to the fear and doubt I felt walking alone in the woods at night. I almost felt foolish for having felt so desperate. What did I think would happen? Did I lose my focus? Did I turn my gaze away from Him? Is this what Peter felt when he jumped out of the boat with unbridled excitement onto the Sea of Galilee to walk on water toward Jesus only to have the fear of the dark stormy seas interrupt his walk? Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. I heard the same voice that spoke to Peter whisper to me…You of little faith…why did you doubt? (Mt 14).
I had come to the end of a season of raising children, graduated my youngest of two. A long walk in the woods would remove me from the familiar, from the distractions of modern life. I thought it would be a walk that would take me thousands of miles and closer to God as I longed to draw near Him and leave behind all that hinders faith. The walk was not as long as I had hoped, interrupted too many times by the thought that often paralyzes us…what if? But the original desire to meet Him on trail compelled me to resume the walk that took me 391 miles across a mountain range of unspeakable beauty punctuated by the fear and doubts of the valleys and the exhilaration of the mountain tops. The walk is not over…to be continued, but as I have resumed life in the din of humanity, I find the trail is not different than the walk we are called to follow.
Peter denied Jesus three times. How many countless times have I denied Him with doubt. How many have you? This does not catch Jesus by surprise. He already knew. He knows. But Jesus reinstates Peter…he reinstates me…you… and instructs us to…feed my sheep [and] follow me! (Jn 21:15-19).