Losing One’s Way

In the summer of 2006 my three sons, the two youngest still teenagers, went on a trip to climb Granite Peak in Montana—a rugged peak with difficult access. Three friends joined them. Before they left, being quite familiar with the region myself, I told them, “you are going to get lost.” They didn’t believe me. I wasn’t concerned that they didn’t know how to use map and compass, for they did. I was concerned that they weren’t going to be diligent enough in their map recon (familiarizing themselves with the map ahead of time) and their terrain orientation (lining up the lay of the land with the map while on the trail). In other words, they weren’t going to maximize the tools that they had at their fingertips. Losing one’s way in the mountains is generally the result of inattention and overconfidence.

When they returned from their trip almost two weeks later, they sheepishly informed me that they had indeed gotten lost for a couple days. They had spent their first night in the mountains at Lower Aero Lake, then crossed over the saddle into the lower Sky Top Creek drainage somewhere between Lone Elk Lake and Rough Lake—the area where my directions began. Per plan, they were supposed to follow the Sky Top drainage all the way to the base of Granite Peak. Easy instructions, but hard—at times brutal—hiking. They began their journey up the lower Sky Top drainage and soon arrived at the steep cascades above the north end of Rough Lake in good spirits. So far, so good.

But right here at the first point of potential confusion, they went astray. They hiked right past the best route (which veered off to the left) and pushed straight ahead, hiking up the steep cascade channel. Shortly thereafter, when they came to a critical fork in the stream (their final opportunity to go the right direction), they continued forging straight ahead when they should have followed the branch to their left. They ended up spending the rest of that day and most of the next day wandering in the mountains, well off the route, sensing something was wrong, but not sure how or where they went wrong. Ultimately they climbed a mountain and got their bearings straight. Now if they had undertaken sufficient map recon and had carefully compared the terrain features on the map with the terrain features around them, they would have noticed that they should have angled left at the cascades (rather than going up the cascades), crossed the low saddle, and dropped into the Skytop Basin at Lower Skytop Lake.

This experience is frequently paralleled in the spiritual realm. We know our instructions in their simple form—just follow Jesus. And we sincerely attempt to do so. But we often make the same kind of mistake that my boys made in that we don’t spend enough time in map recon—the Christian’s map is the Bible. And we don’t spend enough time comparing the environment around us (both the world and the church) to our map. Shortcomings in these two regards set us up for costly mistakes like losing one’s way. We end up making life choices, moral choices, and religious choices that depart from the counsel of our map and leave us wandering around, wondering “what happened?” And as the lost hikers had to seek high ground to get their bearings straight, so wandering believers only get their bearings straight when they decide to get on high ground (turn to God in their heart), actually go to high ground (the counsel of the Bible), and survey their situation from God’s perspective (comparing the situation to the Word of God).

“Test all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) — Following this principle keeps us from going astray and helps us get back on the path when we go astray.

May you grow in the wisdom and grace of our amazing God this week.

“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”

Lee W. Brainard

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