One August Sunday morning, two weeks into my new job as Youth Minister at my church, I hung around after our family service and chatted with folks. Yes, I’m glad to be back at church. Yes, we are rebuilding our youth group. Yes, I’m excited about it. I had told my two girls that they could stay home, since we had just gotten back from a weekend in Chicago.
A few minutes later, in walked four teens. Ok, I thought. This is great for a late summer Sunday. They walked toward me, ready to meet. We didn’t discuss the fact that there was no scheduled youth group meeting. I was glad to see them and get started with God’s work.
We discussed exactly what we want to achieve as a youth group. They all enjoy hiking, so we agreed that our first event would be a Hike & Pray. I’ve only been hiking and running for a couple of years, and they didn’t know that part of me. Excited to share my active self with them, I made sure we finalized the plans at our next meeting.
Here’s where I went wrong. I let the kids offer suggestions for places to hike, and someone suggested Parker’s Woods, a park I’d never heard of. As an avid hiker, walker and runner, I blindly accepted this suggestion and before checking it out in person, named that park as the location for our first hike. BIG MISTAKE. I knew better, but I couldn’t imagine there was a trail I couldn’t handle.
The day before the hike, my husband David and I drove over to Parker’s Woods. My excitement about hiking a new trail wore off as we began our descent. I don’t know how far down we went, but my concern was immediate and palatable. Lord, help me, I prayed over and over again. Once we got to the bottom and hiked for a while, we reached another downward loop with very steep log steps.
Any prayers I had already uttered paled in comparison to my subsequent begging and bargaining: God, please make this path easier; God, please help me find a way to catch my breath; God, if you cared about me, you’d place a tree on the path for me to grab onto as I pulled my weight up through the brush and branches.
It’s too late to change parks now, I thought. I have to go through with this. I put my faith in God that they would enjoy it more than I looked like an out-of-shape poser.
At five o’clock on Sunday afternoon, eight kids showed up to hike with David and me. They easily navigated their way down and around the narrow path. Thankfully we stopped to read directional posts, so I could sip some water and regain somewhat normal breathing.
As we walked, I overheard their conversations:
Oh, you have Mr. Purdrix as a teacher? I had him last year.
You run cross-country? That’s cool. What’s it like?
Did you see the game earlier? Can you believe that play?
I smiled as they walked on ahead. This is just the beginning I hoped for, because it’s the groundwork for what we will do for the rest of the year. We’ll go deeper into our understanding of worship. We’ll go deeper into our understanding of the Bible, starting with our Diocesan Big Read of the Book of Exodus. We’ll go deeper in our relationships with each other as a youth group.
Once we got back to the church for our meal, I realized we hadn’t prayed together while on the trail. The boy who chose this trail prayed, “Well, today was a beautiful day in nature, created by God, and we got the chance to be out in nature, so I’m thankful for that.” Others agreed with him, and we all said Amen. I couldn’t have planned it better. God heard my prayers after all.
How has God helped you out of a tough situation?