Buffalo Bill once said, “I could never resist the call of the trail.” Well, neither can I.
I love trails. I wish I had more opportunities to run, hike, and bike on dirt trails; I seldom miss squeezing trail time into my schedule whenever I get the chance. I enjoy the unpredictability of a trail verses a city sidewalk, maybe because my life is routine and predictable, admittedly of my own making.
I started working on this next book (working title, Trail Markers) because I was fascinated by the idea of trail building. I even bought a Forest Service Trail Building Manual to read their expert opinions. I spent months writing my thoughts on trail guides and ministry.
Trails are irresistible invitations to the unknown. A trail that disappears into the woods or climbs a ridge or curves around an outcropping is a trail I fall for. I have to try it out. I want to see where it goes.
When the most beautiful backcountry seems impenetrable and inaccessible a trial is an invitation to give it a try. A trail makes hiking the most impassable terrain a possibility. Having a trail to follow is a gift. It means you don’t have to bushwhack. You are not on your own.
A trail means someone has prepared the way for you. Someone you’ll never know built this trail, maybe decades ago. So even when hiking alone you are hiking with someone unseen, the trail builder.
However, merely having a trail doesn’t mean the hiking will be easy. You still have to climb the switchbacks, go down the ravines, avoid the rocks, and skip over the roots. But a trail means you are not lost. You have a path to follow.
When hiking in the wilderness, every step we take leaves a mark on the trail and helps to define it for those who are following. Any trail seldom used becomes overgrown and lost to the surrounding terrain. Every hiker becomes a trail builder, a trail guide, simply by walking. Other hikers who come later, those we’ll never meet, will follow our footprints.
Building a trail is an act of faith – like planting a tree – faith that someone someday will use it.
God once told his people to leave an intentional trail for the next generation to follow back home. He was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah at a time when the people of Israel were being carried away into exile in Babylon. God wanted them to know the captivity wouldn’t last forever, there would be a day when they could return home. Jeremiah 31:21 says, Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road you take. (NIV)
God told the Israelites to make sure they could find their way home when the time came to return. This was not about wishing and hoping, but actively setting up road signs, guideposts, bringing a map. The people had some responsibility to find their way back home. It was their obligation to be trail guides to the next generations.
In my early years I followed the clear and obvious trail left by my family. They were consistent, dependable followers of Jesus, and the path they blazed through life was easy to see and follow, hard to lose.
As I got older and more of life’s choices were mine to make, I needed new guides to show the way. Once again God put people in my path who served as trail markers, delineating the best way to live, reminding me I was still on the correct trail.
And today, I know that I have become one of those trail markers for many others. It isn’t an obligation I take lightly, but the most important thing I do.
Being a trail guide means being entrusted with people, entrusted with the trail itself, and it turn entrusting my own guys with belief and insight and calling. A trail guide is less a mentor and more like a fellow traveler … as in, we are in this together.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32