I’ve been in Austria for about a month now. I’ve adjusted to all of the time differences, the slight cultural differences and of course the language barrier. One could say that I’m getting into the swing of things, with a new country every weekend, but nothing could prepare me for the pilgrimage I made today.
We took a bus to a nature trail that leads 17 miles up to a famous shrine, dedicated to the Blessed Mother, in the city of Mariazell. The hike was intended to take six to eight hours depending on speed, and obviously I knew this was going to be a spiritual experience. However, I wasn’t expecting it to re-infuse within me the awesome power of the Lord in nature.
I walked through woods that made me think of Neverland, that reminded me that although I am leaving childish things behind, I still should approach the world with a childlike wonder. I crossed bridges straight from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. As I looked around, these sights taught me that my imagination is a wonderful place, and I can always find adventure if I only manage to put a little thought into it.
About halfway through the hike, some friends and I stopped to jump in a river. Originally, I was worried because we still had about four hours to walk and I didn’t know if getting soaking wet without a change of clothes would be the most prudent idea; yet my friend said “C’mon. When else will we ever get a chance to do something like this?”
For whatever reason, something clicked within me: that I am in Europe, and living the “glory days” of my life. So why not make the memories I was intended to make? And with that, I took a deep breath and jumped in a river with about eight miles of hiking left. Sure, the aftermath was uncomfortable, but life is full of uncomfortable moments.
This hike could be a metaphor for life. We begin so fresh and ready to go with so much zeal for life; yet as we hit the first hill, we begin to tire. However, we press on because the end goal is worth more than the temporary struggle.
Naturally, we get distracted along the way, whether it be by the beauty of nature that transports us to a different world, or by the beauty of living out the life we are supposed to be leading. But eventually, because the world is not inherently perfect and there is quite a bit of evil in it, we face setbacks, steep hills that cause us to lose our breath, or slow down on our final path (to heaven or a shrine or otherwise).
However, it is important to focus on the beauty of life around you and focus even more on the struggle you are having in order to offer it up to the Lord. After all, he was nailed on a cross and endured so much worse than the pain of an uphill battle — so whatever you’re going through, it is for his glory.
Finally, in the end stretch, you’re captured by the truth and beauty you’ve experienced through the journey. In hindsight, you see that you’ve become a different person as you transitioned from one stage to another.
By mile 11, I was definitely hurting. But I decided to keep going, because I knew it would help me grow closer not only to the Lord but also to getting to know myself. And although I know I will be hurting for the next week, I’d do it all over again.