The Importance of Community: Prelude
A Hiking Story
The past week has been absolutely phenomenal and it reached it’s crescendo on May 18th, 2019. I had the incredibly amazing opportunity to travel to Seattle and visit my friend William.
William and I met about 10ish weeks ago and I wholeheartedly believe that meeting was God ordained and orchestrated, else I would not have jumped at the opportunity to spend the weekend with him up in the Pacific Northwest. We were both thinking about going to Mt. Rainier National Park and doing some hiking around there, but it turned about to be a little early in the year for that. So, we opted to go to Olympic National Park instead and it did not disappoint. In fact, I knew fairly little about Olympic National Park, but we were decisive and said “Let’s just go and see what we get into.” The day was providential and exactly what I needed.
The weather was absolutely phenomenal—partly cloudy, high visibility, and 62 degrees at the visitor center. What we learned was that it was still a bit early to go try to summit a peak (there goes my plan for trying to replicate experience last May at Telescope Peak). However! Other plans were in action.
The park ranger said that the dirt road to Obstruction Point was not yet open to vehicles, but was cleared for hikers to trek. The combination of being accessible but closed to motor traffic, he said, only occurs for about a week during the year. That week was this week; like I said—Providential. We did a short warm up hike and got onto the road around 2 PM. The road started with a moderate descent and then saw a few ups and downs as we traversed 4 miles to the half-way point. Along the journey we saw breathtaking views and neither of us cared much to converse as we both were breathing the fresh mountain air and taking in the wonder of creation around us.
The downside to this being a road, though, was that it was not very adventurous…and I like adventure. Towards the half-way point we saw a sign that said PJ Lake 0.9 Miles. Both of us were like “Heck yea, let’s go!” and off we went. About a tenth of a mile in we started going down very steep declines; I looked at William and said “Bro, this is going to suck coming back up.” Yet, we decided to keep going, it’ll be worth it. We eventually came to a stream created by the snowmelt. It cut through the snow on each side and all we could hear was the wind and running water. It was something I had experienced in real life and, though the clouds a few hundred feet above us drowned the sun out, it was peaceful and serene. To our dismay we were unable to find the trail on the other side of the stream and there were no footprints in the snow for us to follow. Pressed for time we decided to turn back and never made it to the lake the sign said existed. The valley we knowingly and willingly descended did not deliver on its promise to us.
We began our ascent back up the trail and, as I predicted, it was terrible. It did not help that I had baggage, about 25-30 pounds of it (note to self… stop carrying so much camera gear, you don’t need it). We pushed up the first steep climb and switch back and I was keeping pace. Then we got to the next and I started slowing down, my pulse increased, and my endurance was coming up short. William offered to help lighten the load by taking something from my bag. I insisted that I didn’t need to lighten the load, but I was humble enough to give some of it away if it became too much. As you could guess, after the next switch back I willingly allowed him to bear part of my burden. The ascent still was terrible, but we made it back to the road. The victory was short lived because we still had 4 miles back to the car on the road, yet the worst was over and we kicked that road’s tail on the way back. The trip back saw much more conversation, perhaps because we both needed to distract ourselves from the pain we had just put ourselves through. It only took us an hour to get back to the car, but we were hurting by the time we got back.
Hills, Valleys, and The Road Ahead
I tell that story because it is frightfully poetic and indicative of the past 7-8 months of my life. I’ve written at length about the trials I walked through and truth that God revealed to me in 2018. It’s what my first four journal entries were about. Climbing up out of the valley took hard work, endurance, faith, hope, and love. For the five months of 2018 I wrestled with truly letting people in and being fully authentic and fully vulnerable. Then, at the end of 2018 and entering 2019, trials started to arise. Conflict was all around, I was unsettled at work, and my interpersonal relationships were strained. Life began to destabilize. In my quest to remain faithful, obedient, and strong I gradually lost authenticity with God and returned to my innate prideful state.
It was not all bad though, quite the opposite. There were a multitude of great moments during this season and I saw God move in mighty ways. That is a key reason why this hike was so poetic, the majority of the journey into this was very doable and required endurance to keep the pace. It required some training to simply be able to press through the normal ups and downs. Similarly, I had endurance through a large part of this and all glory goes to God. He was faithful throughout, and my community He placed around me was faithful throughout. Even though obedience and faithfulness kept me afloat, I was struggling to tread water in the midst of a steady onslaught of waves. Trial after trial in every area of my life started to overtake me and instead of letting go. Instead of repenting. I doubled down and knowingly and willingly ventured down to this season’s PJ Lake… It’s only 0.9 miles away and I can handle it.
I only had a single friend with me on my hike down to PJ Lake and that was enough to adequately bear my burden, encourage me, and push me. This season, however, it took a multitude of people to bear my burdens, encourage me, and rebuke me. That is part of what Christian community does! The fact is, friends, that my heart is prone to wander off the path sometimes in search of shortcut or in search of my own desire. You would think that I would have learned by now that the path set before me is already filled with seasons of hills and valleys, even though they are not absolute. The excursions look enticing and desirable, but if my desires don’t align with God’s Word then I am only making my journey harder. If I simply pay attention to the detail, then I will notice that the path set before me contains it's own beauty and treasure.
Thankfully God works all things out for good and His glory! The hills and valleys exist whether we like it or not, but God designed us to live relationally—first with Him and then with one another. This marks the start of my next series: The Importance of Community. I'd like to share three marks of Christian community: bearing of burdens, encouragement, and loving rebuke. In this I am going to give a real and practical example at how a friend in my life exemplified this quality of community. I hope you are ready, because am ready to tell you about the forging of bonds that last.
A Crooked Stick