RoadThe trail started out promising enough. It was nice and wide, and showed evidence of recent mowing. It even had a sign, if I remember correctly, proclaiming that this way was a trail. So I had high hopes when I started to follow it that this trail would provide me with at least a few minutes of entertainment and a chance to get off into nature by myself. After almost a week of hard work and putting up with the people I was camping with, it seemed a great idea to be off by myself in the middle of nature for a while.

The trail, however, did not stay so promising for long. Soon all signs of mowing disappeared, and the trail became little more than a footpath through the forest. Undaunted, I continued on, determined to see where this path would take me.

But it got worse. The trail started climbing a high hill, and it seemed that many who had taken the trail before me had started to give up at this point, as the path began getting less and less noticeable and harder to follow. I didn’t even slow down, however, but continued along the path determinedly as it started up the steep hillside. 

But, alas, I came up against what appeared to be the end of the trail. It suddenly stopped at a large hump, and all that appeared to remain of it was a narrow ledge moving along the hillside above a steep drop-off…almost a small cliff, really. The ledge continued on around a bend in the hillside and was lost from my sight.

I surveyed this ledge, quickly taking note of its width, determined not to stop following this path and give up on the solitude I was seeking if I could help it. I decided that I could follow the ledge if I hugged tightly to the hillside. Perhaps, I reasoned, the trail would widen around the bend up ahead. So, without a second thought, I stepped out unto the ledge and began inching my way along it toward the bend up ahead.

It soon became evident to me that merely hugging the hillside was not going to be enough to keep me on the ledge, as the hillside curved outward quite pronouncedly, and the ledge I was traversing was very narrow. I would have to hold on to something to keep myself from falling. However, there were no brush or trees growing along the side of the hill above me, and the only thing that appeared to offer any sort of a hand hold was the rather thick grass growing above the hump which was making my walk along the ledge so difficult. Determined not to give up, however, I dug my fingers into this grass, and, held up only by the tender roots of the grass, I continued along the ledge. A nagging thought that what I was doing was rather foolhardy started to knock at the door of my mind about this time, but I pushed it away, determined that I was going to see this trail through to its end no matter what. Refusing to look down at the drop below me, I continued along the ledge, and at last reached the bend and peered around it to see if the trail did indeed widen there.

What met my eyes was a disappointment, however. Not only didn’t the ledge widen, but instead it petered out to nothing a few feet from the corner. It appeared that, in spite of my determination to find a quiet spot to relax, I would not find it at the end of this trail.

Disappointed, I retraced my steps back along the ledge, holding tightly to the grass above me, until I came to the original trail and the hump which had stopped my progress and forced me out unto the ledge in the first place. Still holding out some hope of finding another way through the forest to the hilltop, I examined the trail as it approached the hump, and noticed with some excitement what I had missed before in my eagerness to continue on the trail out unto the ledge. I noticed obvious signs that some who had followed the trail before me had climbed up over the hump and continued on up the hillside. So it appeared that I was not foiled after all! Without a second thought I pulled myself up over the rock and continued on up the trail.

Now the trail was even less pronounced than before. I wound among the trees, almost having to guess where the trail was at times. I charged on, though, sensing that I was coming near to the end of my quest.

Sure enough, I soon glimpsed a break in the trees ahead. Hurrying onward, I soon came bursting out of the forest, and found myself in a meadow on the very top of the high hill. I had made it to the end of the trail! In excitement, I wandered out into the meadow, thinking with some satisfaction that I had not let the trail defeat me, but had finished my goal and made it to the top. And the trail had ended just like I had wanted it to, in a meadow on the top of the hill. You know, I think every trail should end in a meadow.

As I crossed the meadow, however, I noticed with some chagrin that the accomplishment of my goal wasn’t nearly so satisfactory as I had anticipated it being. Instead of relaxing and being able to rest at the top of the trail, I found myself anxious to start back along the trail to return to our campsite before dark, and before someone missed me. So, turning back from the other side of the hill, I headed back for the woods to the place where the trail had emerged.

Or where I thought it had emerged. I found, to my dismay, that the almost non-existent trail that I had followed to the meadow left no sign of its beginning which was apparent from the meadow where I was. And I had, in my wild rush into the meadow, totally failed to take any note of where the trail emerged from the woods so that I could follow it back again. How could I have done that? After reading so many books about woodcraft which always said to watch your backtrail carefully, turning around often so that you’d know what the trail behind you looked like so you could follow it back… And I, in my mad rush, had not even taken note of where the trail emerged from the woods!

Well, perhaps I could find it by using the “look back” method in reverse. So, finding what looked like a trail heading into the woods, I followed it for a short way, and then turned back to the meadow to see if I recognized it as the trail I had followed. No, I didn’t…this wasn’t how the trail had looked approaching the meadow, of that I was certain. Well, the trail was well to one side of the meadow…perhaps I simply had not gone far enough to find it. Returning to the meadow, I continued along it farther, trying every now and then to see if any of the breaks in the trees and brush were the trail I had followed. But no, I came to the very edge of the meadow, and still had not found the trail I had followed. And, with an anxious look at the sky, I saw that the evening was getting along. No doubt it would soon be supper time at camp, and they would start to miss me.

Well, there was nothing for it but to strike off into the woods, heading straight down the hill in the direction I knew camp was. It might not be as good a going as the trail, but at least I’d make it back.

But, I had forgotten the drop-off. And I hadn’t gone very far down the trail until I came to it. Here it was a sheer drop, with no sign of even the narrow ledge which I had been able to follow before. And so here I was on the edge of the cliff with no idea where I was along it or how to get down.

You know, I think some people approach their whole life much like I approached that trail. They set themselves a goal for something which they think will make them happy, and then set off to accomplish it, charging madly through life toward their imagined place of happiness, not stopping for a moment to entertain the warning signs they see or to consider that what they find when they achieve their goal may not be what they really wanted after all. And, upon coming to it, they find indeed that it was an empty promise after all, and no happiness is found on the plateau that they have finally reached.

But now, as they try to start back, they find that the trail has disappeared behind them. They charged so hurriedly toward their goal that they never stopped to think of the hole they have been digging for themselves. And now, they find themselves standing on the edge of a cliff, with no way to go and no one to turn to.

What a sad thing! It is always best if, every now and then in our lives, we stop to take a moment to think about where we are headed, and what we can expect to find when we get there. So many never stop to do this. And when they reach their goal, they are always ultimately disappointed.

But I hope that you and I are usually more intelligent than that. I suppose our relationship with God helps us to see the truth of things, and to know what is the way that we should go. And in the end, I know that God will have great things in the future for one who is determined to follow Him. Maybe not great things in the eyes of this world, or even in this life. But I know that He will be no one’s debtor, and will repay every decision made for Him with its just reward, and even beyond that.