A few days after graduation, my roommates and I decided we needed one last hurrah before moving out, and that this last hurrah had to involve three states, five national parks, and about a dozen hikes crammed into eight days. Throwing planning to the wind, the six of us drove to Glendale, Utah, by way of Denver (our routing skills were questionable) in a Tahoe (our spatial planning skills were nonexistent) to see Zion National Park, one of the crown jewels of the National Park System.
Even in May (in the middle of a pandemic), we knew the park would be packed. Wanting to catch the sunrise and beat other visitors up the mountain, we woke up at 4:45am to be on the trail by 6am. Thinking ourselves wilier than the rest, and figuring no one else would commit to rising that early, we made it about 4 miles into the park before seeing hundreds of other cars converging on the trailhead (one of only two open) we had hoped to have to ourselves for at least an hour. We slid into one of the few remaining parking spots at 6:05am.
Undeterred, we began hiking almost immediately. We ascended the 1200ft or so to the base of Angel’s Landing in less than an hour, passing every other group of hikers we saw as we tried to buy ourselves some solitude in God’s creation. We had brought our Bibles to try to do some individual reading on the mountain, but as soon as we thought about settling down to read, the first of thousands of other hikers began to catch up to us. The people around us ruined our top-tier, Instagrammable quiet time set ups with their top-tier, Instagrammable, artsy nature pictures.
Frankly, this made me grumpy. I wanted to escape to nature to see what God had made and only wanted to interact with the handful of close friends I had brought with me. Who were these selfie-stick laden park goers to ruin my solitude? We hiked further up the trail into the quiet and settled down again, but I had only enough time to open to Ecclesiastes 1 before the low-level din of other hikers again cut through my concentration. Knowing things would only get busier, and trying to focus on my beautiful view instead of the noise, I elected to go ahead and read as best I could.
“The wind goes to the south and circles around to the north; round and round the wind goes and on its rounds it returns. All the streams flow into the sea, but the sea is not full, and to the place where the streams flow, there they will flow again. All this monotony is tiresome; no one can bear to describe it. The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear ever content with hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:6-8) This passage seemed applicable, sure, but not in the way I had wanted it. I was here to observe that monotonous earth, I thought. If one of the most beautiful views in the United States was meaningless, where was I to be looking?
My New Testament reading for the day quickly answered that question: “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 4:17-18)
This kind of scriptural one-two punch hit me hard and let me know that God wanted my attention. I had spent most of the morning running away from what has eternal value to better enjoy things that will pass away. I sprinted past dozens of hikers whose souls have an eternity ahead of them to spend time with a passing earth. But this is what we do, isn’t it? When I look back over the times where I have been out of step with God’s mission, I see that my missteps have been caused by decisions to chase something temporal. Money, popularity, romantic fulfillment, education–all of these are just like a hike up Angel’s Landing: beautiful, and with potential for good, but ultimately unfulfilling in and of themselves, and not worth passing over eternal beings. We can be so distracted by life that we forget life’s mission: engaging the lost. Lewis put it best in his Weight of Glory essay (a title I suspect he borrowed from the verses I referenced in 1 Corinthians earlier): “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, [Zion National Park]–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” While we aren’t called to a somber life of door-to-door salvation check-ups, and there is time for quiet study and for enjoying beautiful hikes, we must move through this earth remembering how fleeting life is. We’re called to remember that the people around us are fragile, but that their souls are not, and we must make it our mission every day to help lead others to the feet of the Savior.
By Ridley Holmes. Ridley Holmes is a recent Baylor graduate and longtime member of Harris Creek. His interests include coffee, running, and finding ways to bother Nate Hilgenkamp. He will participate in the Watermark Residency this fall.