And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?
Last week I had a phone conversation with a friend who is going through something really difficult. I could hear the weariness in his voice. Sometimes in life we face challenges that aren’t resolved overnight, and it’s hard to see what God is doing.
That same week, my brother and I took our sons on a backpacking trip. They are 11 and 9. We drove up to the mountains and marched off into the woods carrying everything we needed for three days and two nights of adventure. It was a situation the boys would never have been in on their own. Without us there to protect them, they would have had no business out there in the wild.
The first day, we hiked four miles in to a beautiful mountain lake. It was the farthest Caleb had ever hiked, but I knew he could do it. The trail was steep at times, and rugged, with a lot of roots and exposed rocks. At one point we crossed a huge, flat meadow, which was a welcome change from the rest of the terrain. Then a lot more climbing, and then the final mile was a long drop down to where the lake was. We were all tired when we arrived, but the boys had a burst of energy when we finally saw the lake and realized we’d made it. We had it all to ourselves, so we swam in the freezing water to cool down, and then Randy and I set up camp while the boys explored. The place was a young boy’s dream, with lots of big rocks to play on. I took a nap in a hammock, and then after dinner the stars came out. A perfect day.
The next morning we took a day hike to another nearby lake, just to explore the area. It was three miles round trip, but easier because we weren’t carrying our heavy packs. On the return journey, it started to rain. Just a little at first. We had known this was a possibility, and we weren’t overly concerned. We could wait out a mountain thunderstorm in our tents if we needed to. We arrived back at camp around lunchtime, and settled into our tents for a nap, to wait until the rain had passed.
Two hours later, it was becoming clear that the rain was not going to pass. The boys were playing in one tent, and Randy and I were talking in the other, and no one had looked outside in a while. That was when I discovered that the floor of the tent under my sleeping pad was moving, like a waterbed. It hadn’t leaked through yet, but the entire tent was sitting in a giant puddle. Randy and I consulted and agreed that waiting to hike out the next morning might mean a long, wet night for all of us. But the alternative was to strike out for the car, in the rain, right now, after having already used a fair amount of energy that morning. Just then the boys cried out to us, and we looked out to discover that their tent was in worse shape than ours. Time to go.
We explained the situation to the boys, and they didn’t hesitate. A heated car and cheeseburgers in Reno sounded pretty good. It took me and Randy about 25 minutes to pack everything up while they stood under a tree to try and keep dry. When we were all packed up, everything was much heavier, because it was soaked. But there was no turning back now. We struck out to retrace the path we had walked just the day before, but this time we were tired, and wetter with every step.
The first mile was uphill. Our legs complained, and our packs felt heavy. Caleb’s hands got cold, and I blew on them to warm them up, then found some socks in my pack he could use as gloves. Finally we crested the hill, and began the long slog back down. It seemed to go on forever. Soon the rain had soaked through all of our layers. The sock-gloves became too wet, and I had to dig for another pair, this time dirty ones. I began to feel guilty, watching my son march along in the rain, his hood over his head, a heavy back on his back, his hands in my dirty socks. This was not the adventure he signed up for. It was miserable. But at the same time, I was also deeply proud of him. I knew he was tired and cold. I knew he didn’t have the same ability to judge distances as I do, or have as good a sense of what his body is capable of. He didn’t have the perspective I do. But he trusted me. He kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, because He believed that eventually I would get him out of this, and that until then I would keep him safe.
Then we got to the meadow. We had been looking forward to it for a long time, talking about it, guessing how much farther, because we were so looking forward to the relief from the steady downhill. Our legs were trembling, and at least two us could feel it in our knees. We came to the edge of the trees and stepped out into the flat, open grass.
Within moments, we realized that instead of being a relief, the meadow was a new level of misery. Away from the protection of the trees, the wind speed doubled. It cut through our wet clothes and chilled us to the bone. Now the meadow was something to get through as quickly as possible. But you can’t really hurry when your pack is a quarter of your body weight, so we just lowered our heads and marched on. When we got back into the trees, we discovered that the remaining downhill section was even steeper than what we had already done. Ugh. More trembling legs, more slippery trails, more rain. There would be no relief until the finish line.
I’m not going to tell you my son didn’t complain. Of course he did. There were times he would have quit if it had been an option, but he knew it wasn’t, so he kept marching. What I can tell you is this: this summer I made it a point to soak up the beauty of the mountains. I kayaked on every body of water within an hour’s drive of my house. I climbed high peaks, and I napped in hammocks beside secluded mountain lakes. And yet my favorite memory of the summer is that little boy with his pack on his back, his wet hood pulled down low against the wind, his hands in my dirty socks, marching. Putting one foot in front of the other. I’m so proud of him I can’t even tell you. Look at that little man go, I thought more than once.
As I watched him endure, a picture of trust and perseverance and vulnerability and grit all rolled into one, I thought of my friend. My friend who is going through something hard, and doesn’t know when it will be over, and doesn’t always understand what his heavenly Father is doing. I think God looks on him with the same pride. I think God hurts for his pain, the way I hurt for my son’s pain. And I think God has a much easier time than we do of seeing the big picture, knowing that soon enough we’ll all be back in the car with the heater blasting, eating potato chips and laughing because our fingers are still too frozen to untie our shoes, telling stories about how hard it was, and how it’s all over now, and how we’re about to appreciate a cheeseburger more than we ever have.
Whatever you are going through this week, keep marching. The rain won’t last forever, and while it does, your Father is so proud of you. You make Him smile. You bring Him more joy than anything else in His creation. He loves you, and He feels your pain, and He is with you every step of the way.