Blazing New Trails

Isaiah 43:19 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

In the summer of 2001, I went on a backpacking trip in Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. We stayed in a cabin for a few nights before heading out on a 5-day hike where we climbed a mountain. Some of the trail was blocked and washed out, so on the third day we had to abandon it and make our own way. Our pace slowed to a crawl. No path through the thicket. No bridges over water. No signs pointing us in the right direction. We had a compass and a mountain in the distance… and that was about it.

I find that many people romanticize the idea of being a “trailblazer.”  There is something tantalizing about the thought of being the first to do something or go somewhere. However, the reality is quite different than the motivational posters, speakers, and memes would suggest. Going where no one has gone before is actually hard work. You have less confidence about whether you are headed in the right direction. If people are following you, they may voice such concerns. There are thorns. You must course correct. You must try things, and sometimes those things do not work. And we did not become trail blazers by choice. The trail stopped and we had to keep moving forward.

When on a hike, we usually are choosing which trail to take. It is quite rare that we ever decide to make a completely new way. In Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” the narrator is choosing between two paths, but never is it considered to blaze a new trail altogether!  There seems to be a trust that the people that have come before us knew what they were doing or had a sense of where they were going. And so, we choose a path. Sometimes we take the ‘main path’ and sometimes we feel adventurous and pick “the one less traveled.” But to choose to blaze a new trail? No… almost never.

On my Colorado adventure, I remember looking around and thinking, “There is nothing in front of me to suggest which way to go. It’s completely up to us.” This was something freeing in that, but it was also terrifying. There were times where we came close to steep drop-offs, but we could not see it until we were almost right up on it. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. 

Right now, we are all, in some sense, blazing new trails. We are not on the well beaten path of those that have come before us. And we didn’t choose this… the trail just suddenly stopped, and we had to keep moving forward. The pandemic has made it so just about every role you play in life has new rules and requires you to try new things. We are in the middle of the woods and trying to go in the right direction.

You might feel lost. You might feel a little scared. You might  even feel angry. Just about everyone I know feels tired … and some of us are downright exhausted.

Welcome to the hard - but good - work of trailblazing! No one’s walked here before! And in times like these, putting one foot in front of the other is sometimes the most holy action we can take. We try new things, and sometimes they work well! Sometimes they do not, and we keep moving forward. I am willing to bet that you are doing a far better job than you are telling yourself.

I count that time to Colorado as one of the best trips of my life and climbing that mountain was the highlight of it. And the optimist in me thinks that there is a ‘mountain’ in all this craziness of 2020. Years from now we will look back at this as a time where we learned a lot about ourselves. I even wonder if many young children will remember this time quite fondly… But there is the reality that right now we are not on top of the mountain. We are in the woods doing the hard, slow work of trailblazing.

So, it is okay to be tired. It is okay to go to bed early. It is okay to have an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert. It is okay to be out of new ideas. Have extra grace for yourself — and for others around you! They are trailblazing too!

We are making a new path that people might take someday. And even more important, we are better appreciating what it took for those that came before to blaze the trails we have always taken for granted.

Keep blazing the trails. You are doing better than you think.