When Our Faith Journey Goes Too Far

There’s been a trail that has taunted me for the past two summers.  It is almost always in the top listings for trails near Westcliffe on Alltrails.com when I’m looking for places to hike.  I’ve considered it many times but have hesitated because of the length (about 12 miles). It’s the Venable-Comanche Trail.  I’ve hiked portions of it before but not the entire loop.

On the Venable side, I’ve been to Venable Falls a couple of times.  I’ve also been partway up the Comanche side. Today was the day to go all the way to Comanche Lake.  Really not a difficult hike (comparatively speaking), and Ginger, my 11 year-old dog, and I made it to the Lake in good shape.  

After eating our lunch, I just kept thinking about the entire loop.  We were this high up, why not go on to the top and loop back around. I could mark off both Comanche Lake and Venable Lake in the same day.  Seemed like such a reasonable thing to do, so I texted Dallas the change in plans and started up to the top.

To the top

It is about 1.4 miles from Comanche Lake to the crest of the mountains about a thousand feet higher.  There were plenty of times on that climb that I thought about turning around, but I write about walking in faith.  What would it say if I quit part way up?

I have to admit that the view was amazing.  Actually, I stopped a lot and looked back at the incredible scenery that God created (and to literally catch my breath).  I took several pictures as I went higher and higher.  

And then, when I got to the crest – Majestic!  I could see for miles to the west looking out over Saguache County and beyond.  Looking east was the Wet Mountain Valley (where we live) and the Wet Mountains. Absolutely breathtaking views.

A voice and a decision

And it is there that I had that voice inside saying, “Go back down the way you came”.  But I was at the highest point of the loop, why would I not cross over to the next valley and finish what I set out to do?  It’s about the same distance down. Besides, I didn’t want to go down the steep trail that I just ascended.

Logic would say that if the distance down is roughly the same, maybe the other way would also be steep.  I have to admit, that thought never crossed my mind when making the decision to continue around the loop.  Nor did I consider the closeness of the contour lines when looking at my topo map. (Everyone in unison now, “Oh, you silly boy”)

I traversed the relatively steep face on the west side of Spring Mountain.  It was nice to be going along without climbing or descending, though the narrowness of the trail wasn’t very pleasant.  Nor was the strong wind, but at least it was pushing me towards the hillside, not down it. Then, I came to the crest where the trail drops down towards Venable Lake.

What have I done?

Amazing views!  But where was the trail?  If I thought the Comanche side was steep, then what in the world do I call this?  It seemed to be a sheer drop of hundreds of feet!

I did manage to pull myself together enough to see the trail going down to the lake.  The trail wasn’t that steep, but it was on the side of a very steep rock wall! Terrifying!  Here is a picture of Phantom Terrace from down below (the name may be indicative of something).  If you zoom in enough and look very closely, you may be able to see the trail coming down to the right of the saddle.  Did I mention it was terrifying?

I’m not sure I can call what I did through that section hiking.  It was more about holding on to a rock and making sure that my foot got put in the right place.  And lots of praying. Actually, I was pleading for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness for not listening and going back earlier.  “And please, Lord, get me down safely without the need for search and rescue.”

Is there a lesson?

I had a few miles of hiking down, after getting off the sheer rock face, to contemplate what I did, and could have done differently.  Also, how on earth am I going to get a faith lesson out of goofing up?  

The obvious lesson is that we need to listen to that still small voice and not go charging forward with our goals.  If I had just turned around when the voice inside told me to, it would have been a much more pleasant day. The Lord knows so much more than we do and has a much bigger perspective on situations.  We really should listen and trust Him when He speaks.

But what about when we go to far?

But what happens when we go to far in faith and step beyond where He wants us to go that day?  Well, as I experienced, it gets really uncomfortable and much more difficult. Not that walking in faith is supposed to be comfortable or easy, because most of the time it is not so.  But, there is a peace that passes understanding and amazing strength when we are exactly where the Lord wants us.

The biggest reason most people don’t walk in faith is fear.  Fear of what? I’ve found for most, it is fear of the unknown, or fear that God will leave us hanging.  This leads to the main lesson I learned today. When we walk in faith, He never leaves us, even when we overstep and go too far.

“But Mark,” some would say,  “we have to stay perfectly inside the lines of the Lord’s will or else . . .”  “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). And certainly better than disobedience.  But, even when we are disobedient, He still loves us, though there may be consequences.  When we get over ambitious, I think He looks at us with an extra measure of grace, maybe even a bit of pride in our willingness to go beyond in faith.

Among the many things I’ve learned about God the past few years, one is that He delights in my willingness to trust Him.  He is also exceedingly forgiving when I mess up trying to do it right. Someone once said, “I’d rather fail trying than fail to try.”  For me, I’d rather go too far in faith, then not far enough.

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