This weekend a friend and I went for a hike in southern Utah. Both a physical and spiritual experience, hiking has a restorative effect when I feel stuck or overwhelmed by my life. This weekend was no exception.
The Kanarraville Falls hike just south of Cedar City, Utah (named for the lovely small town of Kanarraville that sits at the base of the canyon that leads to the falls) is one of those hikes that exemplifies what I love about southern Utah: red rock, trees that manage to flourish despite extreme heat and little water, slot canyons that rise up dramatically from the desert floor and provide shelter from the heat.
You hike back into the canyon over a red dirt road, at first crossing the river occasionally, and then hiking up the river for much of the second half of the trail, until you reach one of those hidden treasures: a waterfall–actually a series of them–flowing out of the desert.
The hike is moderately difficult. A number of places made me glad I had a friend taller and stronger than I who could help me get up and over boulders and slick rock that would have been significantly more challenging without a partner. My friend usually walked a few steps ahead of me, and would occasionally point out where a particular rock was loose or more slippery than it looked. The metaphor there is pretty obvious. There are reasons we do things in pairs and groups in this life–there is not only strength in numbers but also greater ability to get everyone over the obstacles life holds for all of us. Sometimes you’re the capable one; sometimes you need someone to extend their hand to you and provide leverage you don’t have on your own.
The really profound moment on this hike for me, though, came as we were headed back down the river after climbing up the falls and following the trail as far as we felt we could both safely go.
Hiking in a river is challenging for a number of reasons. The water is usually at least a bit cloudy, so you can’t see precisely where you’re stepping. You’re walking over uneven ground, which usually involves stones of various sizes, some of which are firmly settled, and some of which are loose–and you can’t always tell by looking. Your shoes and clothes weigh more than you’re used to because they’re wet, so you have to adjust your balance differently. The secret is to go slowly, taking one step at a time, testing your footing before you bring your weight forward and find the next step. While you need to look ahead occasionally to make sure you’re still following the right path, you need to focus primarily on the step right in front of you. Looking ahead too much is the quickest way to lose your footing and end up flat in the river, or worse, with a broken ankle or a twisted knee.
In the gospel we frequently talk about a principle of “line upon line, precept upon precept.” This is how the Lord teaches us, a little at a time, not everything at once. The principle certainly applies to how we learn the gospel, but I think it also has application for how we live daily, how we confront the things that challenge us the most.
I tend to get myself in trouble in life, in relationships, in my work by looking too far ahead, either trying to suss out the end of something that is causing me anxiety because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out or overwhelming myself because I can see no end to a heavy burden I feel like I’m going to be carrying forever. I trip myself up because I start looking far ahead instead of concentrating on just finding my footing for the part of the path that’s right in front of me.
We need to have goals that stretch us, dreams that are bigger than we are right now, hopes for an eternity we can’t really imagine from this moment in time. But we also need to focus on the part of the path in front of us well enough to move forward safely and steadily.
Maybe it’s because right now there is more than one thing in my life that feels like it’s out of reach or beyond my imagining–a happy relationship, a future after my parents are gone, a professional life that offers something different. I have been pleading with the Lord for patience, strength, the will to change, forgiveness for my weakness, some certainty as to the direction I should go or even what I should allow myself to hope for. And I feel like this hike brought me at least part of the answer, for now: Don’t try to see the ending from here; you’ll only trip yourself up. Just keep taking the next steps one at a time, and trust that continuing to walk the path will bring you to something beautiful.