Finding Our Way When There Isn't Clarity
Every year, a few of the guys I went to college with take a backpacking trip. It’s a chance for us to stretch our legs, reminisce, and be reminded of how cushy our lives are now that we’re all working and raising families.
I missed one of the trips early on when an incredible thing happened - the kind of thing we always hoped for but rarely got in the south - a blizzard. As the guys were hiking to the summit, the snow began to fall quickly. The sun set and out came the headlamps. For a group of college-aged-risk-seeking men, this was a dream come true.
The only problem was that this portion of the trail was on the Appalachian Trail. If you’ve been on that trail, you know that all the signs pointing you in the right direction are painted white. Unfortunately, on this side of the mountain, all of the signs were painted on the rocks themselves rather than on trees. As the snow now accumulated on the ground, my friends recount the sudden, somewhat terrifying realization that they have zero chance of navigating through the snow to the shelter on top of the mountain.
A Lack of Clarity
Do you get these moments when you’re trying to figure out which direction you’re supposed to head? You’ve prepared for the trail, are excited as the changes come, but you didn't really plan to face complete opposite circumstances. The confusion that comes in these moments can sometimes feel like standing in a white-out - you feel dizzy, disoriented, not sure which direction you’re even facing.
Even if you haven’t felt this in a while, it’s really easy to spot someone else who looks lost. The temptation for all of us in these moments is to try and give directions. It’s a gut reaction. It’s a solution to an obvious problem. But it’s not always the most helpful.
My friends stumbled into another group of hikers - they had less gear, were more panicked, but also more sure that they knew the way to go. “Come on, just follow us, we think it’s this way.” You can feel the tension in that thinking of this scenario...why would we follow you?
What We Need in the Blizzard
When I’m watching someone wrestle through the confusion of their life, it’s tempting to say, ‘Hey, follow me, I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to go this way.’ But I rarely stop to consider what that must sound like to them. Why do you know that’s the way? How can you be so sure? What if it’s the wrong way? (By the way, these guys on the trail that my friends ran into were totally going the wrong way.)
When we’re standing in the middle of a blizzard, we need more than just a map. We need more than just a 'feeling' of the right way. We need someone standing with us.
The Power of Searching Together
I’ve written before about empathy: really entering into someone’s story and their feelings, sitting with them in those moments, not looking for answers but just listening. Similar to my friends in this story, we’re often not afforded the leisure in life of sitting in these moments.
But what can we do? At a minimum, we are given the opportunity to search together. Instead of ‘knowing’ where the trail blazes are, we have the chance to go together and look. Let’s be real; you may even know the path your friend is on. You’ve hiked it a million times, but the conditions are different, clarity is distant, that person is unique.
My friends found the shelter that night with a pretty ingenious method - they would send someone ahead to scour the rocks for the next blaze, their headlamp a single beam of life cutting through the darkness. When they would find it, the others would move toward them, and then someone else would go forward.
The blazes were there after they dug through the snow. But it took a conscious effort to stop speculating, stop arguing, and get to work - together. There are going to be times in our relationships when it feels like a lot of work can get done by speculating the direction we’re supposed to go, or who should be looking, or who didn’t look at the weather before we set out. The reality of the Gospel means we are all coming to the foot of the cross together - searching for the trail blazes along the way. It might be familiar territory for you, but don’t stand back, instructing your friend which way to go. Work together to find the trail.