At the start of the new year, I made a resolution to hike the 15.3-mile Hiking Trail at Oak Openings Metropark near Toledo. Jim and I began working toward that goal, increasing our miles and trying more difficult terrains throughout the summer. But as the months passed, I realized that coordinating the logistics of good weather, available weekends, and travel time might not be easy. Still determined to hike the fifteen miles, I mapped out a local route that I could do on any day with good weather, an open schedule, and a ready spirit.
Last week, that day came! I hiked the fifteen miles in about six hours. I circled our neighborhood, ventured down the city streets to the park, hiked the park trail, and returned home, weary but so very happy!
The next day I shared the story of my accomplishment with my mom. She responded with all the wisdom of her 97 years: “Why would you do that?”
Her question inspired additional reflections on the purpose for my journey…
My hike was part of a spiritual pilgrimage. For several months, I have been walking more prayerfully and attentively to discern how and where my spiritual community is to be found (I may write about my pilgrimage in future posts). On this recent hike, I prayed for our community and for friends who came to mind; I walked a mile for a dear one who recently passed from cancer; I watched and listened for insights from God about how to live a life of faith in these days without a church home.
But I also pursued my resolution simply for the joy of the challenge.
During an interview in the podcast, Sinner Saint Sister (JOY, episode 74), Kathryn Whitaker recalled a memorable message she had heard in a recent mass. Father Greg had said, “Great stories are not written about easy things.” Kathryn added, “Some of the best stories in the Bible, in our lives, are written about challenges. We are a people who yearn to be challenged.”
Life seems to “oblige” this yearning by giving us challenges we never expected or wanted, doesn’t it? We often do not get to choose our challenges.
But in the times when life is going fairly smoothly, when I feel myself becoming stagnant or complacent, my spirit is uplifted when I set new goals that will motivate and challenge me. My purpose is clarified, my determination is renewed. There is joy in the anticipation. And there is such a sense of gratitude, relief, and accomplishment when those goals are reached!
But there’s more.
…that the practice of setting new and challenging goals will prepare me for other greater, perhaps holier challenges that come from beyond myself
…that I recognize how much I need God in every challenge – those I set for myself and those I do not choose
…that every challenge increases my faith and trust as God continues to lead, guide, and uphold me all the way
…that every experience brings a tangible awareness of the nearness of God
…that I find more of God revealed within me each time I answer the question, “Why would I do that?”
And I hope the same for you.
(Photos by Karen on her pilgrimage hike)