Don't worry, God is in charge.
For our anniversary this year, we decided to take a hike on the Massanutten Trail in the George Washington National Forest here in Virginia. The culmination of the hike is the Kennedy Peak trail, which is a “short” climb to a tower atop the mountain. We chose the 7.0 mile out-and-back hike route.
We parked at the Stephens trailhead and climbed the initial winding .9 mile path to bring us to the Massanutten Trail. (Bottom left on map below.) The next leg of the hike followed the Massanutten Trail straight along the ridgeline for several miles, with a bend to the right to bring you to the base of the peak. The map clearly shows a dog-leg turn back to the left to bring you around the peak. (Map of the trail.)
By the time we approached Kennedy Peak, we were hot, tired and very focused on making forward progress. We were steadily marching to our destination!
The trail had been so obvious that after miles of walking in a straight line we had stopped watching the orange blaze trail markings. Although we had a copy of the trail map on a phone, there was no need to check the map — the trail was simple. We kept marching.
Suddenly, there were rocks in our path. The path continued on before us. We were focused. We kept marching.
As we continued, the path became narrower. At some point, we noticed there were no longer blaze orange marks on the trees to mark the path. Had we somehow gone astray? There was a path still. Others had obviously taken it before us. We continued marching.
We circled the right side of Kennedy Peak for somewhere between a half mile and a mile. Suddenly, we came to a dead end. The path we had been on abruptly ended at a large washout down the side of the mountain filled with rocks, trees and brush. It was impassible. We had no choice but to turn around.
We walked back on the path we had taken, wondering where we went wrong. Reaching the rocks across the path again, which we had diligently crossed as we pursued our destination, from this perspective we could see the path we had come up on rising from the left. But now we could also see the dog-leg turn and the continuation of the path upwards to the right. This was where we had gone astray—we had missed the sharp turn back to the left.
After we climbed over the rocks again to rejoin the path, I turned around and took the above picture so that I would remember where we went wrong.
Having expended additional energy on our detour, the final phase of the hike was more difficult. The path around Kennedy Peak was rocky and uphill. As we went higher, the tree cover became more sparse. The wind was still and the sun was high in the sky. The final turn off the Massanutten Trail to the right to Kennedy Peak turned out to be a steeply vertical hike in the sun up rocks to the summit.
The views were stunning, but let’s just say I did not do a victory dance when we reached the tower. It was hot!
The journey back to the car from the summit was less eventful—no wrong turns or detours—but much more painful. Tired feet. Heat-stressed body. That extra mile or two we spent on our detour made a big negative impact on my return leg of the journey.
We made it back to the car in due course, tired but not injured. We looked forward to a bottle of Champagne to celebrate our anniversary—and for making it back from the hike! We laughed about the rocks we blissfully climbed over, intent on finishing the mission.
As I later thought about the hike and events of that day, I thought back five years to the hike we had made up a mountain in France to the grotto of Sainte-Baume during our anniversary trip. The climb up the mountain to the grotto of Sainte-Baume to visit St. Mary Magdalene’s cave had been the start of a new journey of healing and physical fitness for me. What a difference five years makes!
During the last five years, I went through the crucible with my law firm. I had spent 17 years building a law firm the way I thought I was supposed to, but God saw things differently. Things had turned out well, thanks be to God, but it had been a difficult journey.
The hike to Kennedy’s Peak reminded me of how far I had come over the last five years. It also reminded me that the path we set out on may not always end up being the one we are supposed to be on.
There is an expression, sometimes attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, that states, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” It is good for us to be reminded from time to time that God is in charge. “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”1
The Old Testament story of the patriarch Joseph is a powerful Biblical example of this principle. Joseph was sold into slavery as a youth out of jealousy by his own brothers.2 His winding path through life in Egypt led him to become the second in command to Pharaoh. When famine struck and his family came to Egypt to beg for aid and food, it was Joseph who was able to provide assistance. In the end, Joseph forgave his brothers, saying "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."3
St. Paul also encourages us with the truth that we have a God who brings good out of evil. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”4
Life is complicated. The path forward is not always clear. What is the solution?
Love God with all your heart. Keep his commandments.5 Pray for wisdom and discernment when you are making decisions and choosing the path forward.
Do not be discouraged when you find yourself off the path, having missed the turn.
Do not be discouraged when things are not turning out the way you had hoped or expected.
In the end, trust that God is in charge and He will make sure you arrive at the destination unharmed.
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The story of Joseph is found in Genesis, chapters 37-50.