Recently I drove through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest – at night. It was pitch-black, mountainous driving and Motel 6 was nowhere to be found, let alone having left a light on for me. I knew that my drive was going to take me into the late evening hours yet I was completely unprepared for the narrow roads flanked by rock sheers, and the hair-pin switchbacks every 50 feet….so 360 degree turns first left then right. Left, right, right, left. Each one dropping or inclining at 6%-10% grade…that feels almost vertical. I kept my white-knuckled hands on the wheel and my eyes glued to the road. At anytime there could be deer, bear, rabbits or a tree. Mostly trees. Big trees. Do.not.miss.the.turn. The drive to Redding took 6.5 hours. By the last 75 miles I was almost bleary-eyed with exhaustion.
This past year, I have had the privilege of walking with friends and loved ones through some very dark places in their lives. The deep valleys they are walking through are not the same as those I drove through in the forest. But dark is still dark .. and lonely is, well, as lonely as it always has been. The correlation is unmistakable. If I had been traveling with a companion, we might have stopped to look up and see the stars that were certainly there. Yet, unlike the capable and content person that I typically am, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more small and alone in my entire life. We might have paused to contemplate the incredible beauty I’m sure I drove though and yet missed for my concern of reaching my destination. Nevertheless. Deep was my certainty that I was on the right track, and to turn around would have been impossible and unthinkable.
‘Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out’ … ‘At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’S charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.’ Numbers 9:22-23
I enjoy reading this rendition of the Israelites experience more so than where it is first recorded in Exodus 13. If you take a look at the chapter you’ll find a cadence, an unmistakable lilt in the repetition of the phrases, “at the command of the LORD they camped” and “at the command of the LORD they set out”.
What does the command of the Lord have to do with a journey through the forest or the dark, uncertain trials experienced by friends?
The intentionality in my decision to complete the trip that night might be considered by some to be bull-headed, I suppose. Yet that same strong determination and confidence are a way of life for me, founded on a deep certainty that I’m following the command of the Lord. I know, deep within myself, that I hear Him speaking to me: about the path to follow, the way to sort through my experiences, the way to show His love to those around me, a moment-by-moment dialogue between myself and the God of the Universe. His words, spoken into the deep places of my heart, are never at odds with His written Word or with His character. Yet, no matter how sure that foundation, there will always be the deepest of valleys, the darkest of nights. Walking alone on a path lit only by His Word need not be our concern but being on the wrong path must.
I was fortunate to arrive at my destination that night. I later learned that locals drive a completely different route. They spoke somberly of the numerous people that have been killed along the route I took. It’s not unlike life at all, which can be so very short. Choose wisely.