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Backcountry Principles for Everyday Life

Last week, I went backpacking for the first time. The following connections impressed upon my heart throughout the journey.

Last week, I went backpacking for the first time. It was an incredible three-day journey over Sundance Pass in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. Our group of nine women hiked over 20 miles and summited at 11,045 feet above sea level. We each carried 25 pounds of gear, food and clothing upon our back — everything we needed to survive and nothing extra.

Although I love my everyday life and responsibilities, I enjoyed time away from the daily grind. There’s something special about good conversations along the trail and peaceful nights at a campsite, unplugged from notification “dings,” texts and email.

Alone on the switchbacks, I had time to think with no distractions. I couldn’t help but link my experiences in the woods to my spiritual walk. Although I’m still unpacking, literally and metaphorically, the following connections impressed upon my heart throughout the journey.

Hike Your Own Hike

One of the mantras in the backpacking world is “Hike your own hike.” It isn’t about recklessly throwing caution to the wind, which would lead to disaster. Basically, it means to set your own goals, trek at your own pace, engage in your own outdoor interests, and allow others to do the same.

Our group ranged from newbies like me to experienced backpackers. We differed greatly. Most of us took photos to preserve memories, while a few simply wanted to savor each moment. One member took a quick dip in a cold mountain lake, whereas the rest of us sipped hot chocolate in down jackets along the bank. We had a few social types who chatted late into the night, and others relished solitude and contemplation. Some summited quickly and descended slowly, and others vice versa. We belonged together as a team, but we each hiked our own hike.

Likewise, you and I are each created one-of-a-kind and possess unique talents, abilities, personalities and life experiences. We were born in different times and places and to specific families, according to God’s sovereign plan. We hone various skills and are given spiritual gifts to use in the church upon salvation. We aren’t supposed to conform to or “one-up” one another, or play the comparison game. That’s a big waste of time.

Let’s choose instead to embrace the path God is carving out specifically for each of us, one day at a time. We can “hike our own hike” and simultaneously value the different contributions and experiences of others as members of the unified body of Christ.

“Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Cor. 4-6)

Enjoy the View

On the first day, we encountered a moose gracefully running through a meadow. We heard a baby mountain goat “baa” on the pass and watched a hummingbird flit around our group at the summit.  Along the trail, we saw fields of wildflowers, including paintbrush, bluebells, aster, lupine, and buttercups. Waterfalls, some rushing through canyons and others trickling thin down mountain rock, were plentiful. We rejoiced!

The beauty of God’s creation is all around us. We don’t have to be in the backcountry of Montana to experience His wonders. We only have to train our eyes to notice — truly see — what is praiseworthy in our path. We’ll find it in downtown urban centers, suburbs, small towns and farm fields. Beauty can be noticed from office cubicles, backyards and hospital beds.

We have a good Father who loves to stir our senses, no matter our location, and display evidence of His providential hand at work. If you’re in a season where it’s hard to enjoy the view, ask Him to show you glimpses of His glory. He is faithful to meet us in the ordinary rhythms of life, in the nature He created and in His loving care.

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24). “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” (v. 33-34)

Follow the Guide

There are rules of the wilderness to be followed. “Leave no trace” covers the basics. We packed out what we packed in, properly stored our food, and stayed on designated trails. As a group, we committed to abide by the principles set forth by the U.S. Forest Service to best protect ourselves, other hikers, wildlife and the environment.

In addition to static information in a pamphlet, we also required the daily presence of our guide. This trip was challenging, physically and mentally. She was alongside us when we conquered our fears of sleeping in bear country, trekking through snow, and crossing cold mountain streams barefoot. We dealt together with dirt, sweat, and stinky stuff. At one point, a few of us took a wrong turn and we needed her direction to get us back on the proper trail.

Individually, we received encouragement to push through the discomfort and exhaustion on the switchbacks. She was available through one woman’s blisters, another’s altitude sickness, and our numerous questions. Our guide provided expertise throughout the journey, and we followed her lead.

On a much more important level, human flourishing is the result of daily following Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t legalistically obey an ancient list of rules to please a distant deity. We abide in relationship with a living, active God who encourages us to dwell within His loving boundaries, for our benefit and for others’.

We stick next to the One who met us when we were lost along the path and provided light to make our way forward straight. We’ve been gifted with the Holy Spirit for encouragement and empowerment to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is freedom to be found and help in times of need from the ultimate Guide of our lives.

“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:7-8)

I could not have accomplished a backpacking trip without these principles. And I need to hike my own hike, enjoy the view, and follow the Guide for success in life, as well.

Have you ever been on a challenging journey? Share your story in the comments. Let’s spur one another on in the adventures God is shaping in our lives.

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About the Author

Lindsay Blackburn

Lindsay Blackburn is an ordinary Montana girl who loves life and its many wild and crazy adventures. She works full time as the women’s and children’s ministry assistant at her church and enjoys hosting parties and teaching crafts as a side job. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature and a Master’s degree in education. In addition to being an occasional writer, she’s a bookworm, fitness junkie, traveler, foodie, and theology nerd. You can follow her on Twitter @ellesbee.

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