The sun was beating down, sweat formed on my brow as I hiked along a wide forest trail. People passed by quite often, their numbers growing. Many looked around at the surrounding forest as if hoping to spot something of importance. Others kept their eyes on the path, oblivious to everything as they pushed forward, intent on reaching their goal.
I started to feel trapped, corraled like sheep in a pin as the path grew busier and the push of bodies kept me going forward, ever forward.
A noise suddenly lifted me from my misery…Laughter. It came from the forest, I tried to stop and listen, but the throng of people propelled me onward. Now I kept my ears perked, and again to my surprise, I heard laughter, and this time it was combined with the sound of a rushing stream. I instantly became aware that I was thirsty, so very thirsty!
It no longer mattered that a throng of people surrounded me, I turned around and fought my way toward the noise. My actions were met with angry glares and hurtful words, but they didn’t compare to the deep thirst I had. It was then that I noticed, hardly visible amidst the large green flora, a thin winding trail. Wonder-filled my soul as I took my first step, joy followed as I then ran, free of the crowd, feeling the leaves tickle my bare arms as I passed.
The stream was wide and the purest crystal clear. I jumped straight in and felt immediately renewed. Dirt and sweat washed away as I swam and drank and laughed. I was so immersed in the moment that I failed to notice a small group of people watching me. They smiled and waved from the shoreline. What a motley crew they were, the oldest looked to be in his 70’s, the youngest, no older than 12. They came from many ethnicities and walks of life, and yet they all wore the same joyful smile as I.
I climbed out of the stream and shook their hands, and then together we walked the narrow and lonely path. As time passed I got to know them, trust them, and even love them. So very different were they from the crowd of people before! So compassionate and so passionate about where they were going. I longed to go there too.
Soon, however, the beautiful forest began to thin, the hot sun broke through and the land appeared to be desolate. The youngest of our group frowned and sighed, “this isn’t fun anymore, it’s a hard path, I think I will try and find another.” Hanging his head he said goodbye and turned back. We watched for a while and the middle-aged one of our group lifted our spirits by singing. Our oldest companion reminded us of the joys that waited at the end of the trail. “Surely you aren’t done yet, this desolate land will again fill with life and beauty, just wait.” We smiled and kept walking.
But the promised beauty didn’t come, instead, rough rocks jutted from the dry, cracked ground and the land became harder to navigate. A strong wind blew and we shielded our eyes from the dust. I suddenly called for a halt, because amidst the swirling dust I spotted a long old bridge swaying over a deep valley.
Many in our group began to tremble at the thought of crossing such a bridge, with an old weathered rope and thin wood planks, seemingly held together by will alone. “Whoever built this bridge did a very good job, it has stood the test of time,” I observed. Many of my friends looked angry and confused by my words, “are you kidding? It looks weak and abandoned, I don’t trust it!” They took a few steps back and once their fear diminished they turned sorrowful eyes to those who were left, “This is as far as we dare go, we won’t risk any more.” I tried to plead with them but their minds were made up, “you know? The forest back there by the stream wasn’t so bad, we will return there and stay awhile.” They nodded farewell and left. Only a few remained. Upon seeing such a large group leave, one more left our group to join them, “I think they were right, I’m going to join them too.”
I now had to make a decision, “how far do I want to go?” The words came back to me, of how great the destination would be, I remembered the joy I first felt at finding this hidden trail. I set my gaze upon the land on the other side of the valley and stepped out onto the bridge. The elderly and middle-aged man fell in step behind me.
After what seemed like a lifetime we crossed the bridge and stood on solid ground, knees shaking and heart racing. We smiled at one another and with a nod, I continued forward nearly gasping as my feet hit concrete pavement. The old man looked disgruntled, “I don’t understand, this can’t be the way! It’s too easy now, we must have wandered from the path.” I didn’t reply but knew in my heart that we had stayed true to the path we walked.
The old man walked with us a few more paces, looking all the more uncomfortable, “I’m leaving, this isn’t right, the path I know only gets harder from here, not easier, the very sweat on my brow has dried and my strength is returning. In time you will see that I was right and join me.” He sighed and hobbled away to the right of the path, pushing through branches and dry thorny vines, creating his own path. I reached out my hand toward him, desperate for his guidance and wisdom, yet knowing that in this matter, he was wrong. I felt a hand on my shoulder, my middle-aged companion smiled comfortingly, “come on brother, we have gone too far to turn back now.” I felt a wave of love and hope fill my being, I hugged him and together we continued onward.
Though the path was paved and flat it was tiring to walk. The dead trees were replaced with long rolling fields of green grass, but that was all that could be seen. I lost track of time and during moments when I considered the old man’s words, my companion would encourage me and remind me of what would soon be ours. To my surprise, benches and railings appeared when I was too tired to carry on and I would rest awhile with my friend, talking and laughing. I started to forget about the destination and simply enjoy the journey.
Then it happened, the hard pavement stopped and I stepped into soft grass, the trail had ended and out on the open grass before me was a long wooden banquet table lined with chairs. “I don’t understand,” I said aloud, despite my confusion I felt free. I turned to my companion and saw that he had transformed in some way. He radiated light and joy, his clothing had turned the purest white and His eyes reflected fire and water just like the stream.
I fell to my knees and asked, “who are you?” Memories swam through my mind of him trying to draw me from the crowded path, his laughter and joy as I swam in the stream. All the times he lifted our spirits by singing and sharing stories with us. His deep sorrow when the others walked away, and his hand on my shoulder when I felt that I was alone.
“I am Jesus.” He said, “and this is the awaited destination, you are home.” I began to cry, “you were with me the whole time, I thought I knew everything about you, and yet I had only just scratched the surface.” I covered my face and felt his hands gently pull them away. Before me, the table filled with food and a new crowd of people stood waiting with excitement, family and friends that I had lost long ago, and Jesus, lifting me to my feet replied, “Your journey with me doesn’t end here, in fact, the greatest journey is just beginning, and I will be with you, every step of the way.”
We are all on a journey, we all walk a path, and though narrow, long, and often lonely..we never truly are alone. Stick to the true path, no matter what obstacle you face, and you will reach the destination that everyone longs for, and only a few know how to find.