Having hiked a few miles of trail in several states, I have grown to appreciate the analogy between the path and our lives on this planet. Reflecting on the mountains and valleys, the refreshing waters of a cascading stream and the dryness of a long hike in the energy-sapping heat of the sun, and the highs of reaching the summit in contrast to the pain of a fall on the hardness and unforgiving nature of the trail. The adventure, the victory, the disappointment, the rain, the beauty, the fresh air, the adversity, the canopy, the trip roots of life parallel the experiences of a great hike in the woods.
I recently had my last opportunity to participate in a high school commencement ceremony. As my last year as principal, I shook the hands of 86 students as they walked across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas. Looking into the bright ideas and minds of the class of 2017, I thought about the path each one of them has ahead. With parchment in hand, these young lives begin to walk on a new path, one that they have never hiked before. What will the path hold for them? And how will they navigate the experiences around the next bend?
Retirement brings a new trail as well. The familiar path of the last 29 years will be changed to a new one. What will it look like? Will I be ready to walk the walk? I think the graduate and I, the young adolescent and the old man, have a lot more in common than either would want to admit. I think we both share in a mixture of excitement and apprehension, of adventure and anxiety, of faith and fear. God is faithful and His hand has guided us along the path for years and yet it is not always easy to trust in the midst of the unknown.
Recently some of my good friends have been faced with changing paths. Some of chosen to take a different trail, others have seen one path close and must walk down an alternate route. Some paths are enjoyable and filled with beauty and sun, others are difficult and challenging, but God is faithful through it all. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… You are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Graduate or retiree…. teen or adult… student or teacher… may God give us all the strength and grace to walk with integrity and dignity as we hike a hike worthy of the calling that we have received (Ephesians 4:1).