The hike seemed doable, even easy. Two miles to the waterfall and two miles back. I walk a lot, so no problem….
We didn’t take into consideration the heat of the day – who knew Canada got that hot – or the intensity of the incline – whoa!
So, my husband and I started out, and along the way I learned a few things about encouragement.
I knew I was in trouble before we hit the halfway point. The steepness of the incline combined with the heat was overwhelming. I had a hiking stick in the car – I didn’t bring it. I had a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection – I didn’t bring it. We brought minimal water. Talk about spur of the moment unprepared.
I tried to keep a stiff upper lip and joke along the way when my breathing allowed it. At the half-way point, I sang (sort of) “I’m at the top of the world looking down on creation, and the only explanation I can find…” while I looked pointedly at my husband. He caught my meaning but still urged me on. He really wanted to see those falls.
We passed a lot of people on the trail. Many came from behind, and since they were moving much more quickly than we were, we let them pass by. Others came from the trail ahead. They had already been to the falls, and they were on their way down. I should be embarrassed (but I’m not) that several of the hikers realized how much trouble I was having. They saw my red face and my heavy breathing (did I mention altitude here); they saw my kind husband trying to be supportive; they saw an out-of-shape lady ready to repent of every chocolate bar ever eaten.
These kind hikers tried to offer encouragement.
Let me stop right here and tell you that I now know many meanings of ‘almost there’. As the hikers passed, they would attempt to encourage by saying ‘you’re almost there’. Here is what I determined ‘almost there’ means:
- You have no idea what is ahead.
- You poor lady.
- You are going to die.
- You haven’t even gotten to the hard part yet.
I quickly learned to nod politely and ignore the comment. ‘Almost there’ was false hope.
Others would pass and say encouragingly, “The falls are worth it.” Worth me dying?
I appreciated the sentiment, but my lack of breath by this time was not conducive to any type of productive reply. All I could think of was the next step and the fact that if I made it to the falls, I would still have to walk the two miles back, which at least would be downhill.
When we made it to the halfway point, the view was amazing though my body did not allow me to be as impressed as I should have been. We rested there. Or I should say I rested while my husband waited and took pictures. Had he not been urging me on, I would have never taken another step.
There was one gentleman who stopped to talk with us at this point. He was very clear. He looked me in the eye and said, “You are halfway there, and you have already completed the hardest part of the trail. The rest is not as hard, and you will be glad you made the trip to the falls.” Underneath his words I heard “you will be glad you didn’t quit”.
He was not flippant. He did not downplay the difficulty of the climb, and it was a climb, but he did offer realistic input, hope, and challenge. This was encouragement.
We did make it to the falls. There I soaked my feet in the clear water and watched as children hopped on the rocks like mountain goats. We savored the shade and the beauty of the day, and we rested. A kind gentleman offered an additional bottle of cold water, which I did not turn down, and we enjoyed a break from the arduous journey. The climb down was easier and faster, and I lived to tell the tale – glad that I didn’t quit halfway.
So, what did I learn about encouragement? The journey that is easy for one may be extremely difficult for another person. False words that minimize the hardship do not build up and may serve to add to the problem. This was how ‘almost there’ worked for me.
On the other hand, a realistic acknowledgement of the adversity along with a word of hope can give a person the extra ounce of energy needed to keep pursuing a goal.
My challenge now is to be an encourager for those who are walking with me on this path of life. The journey can be grueling and demanding, so my words must be thoughtful and offered in a way that will strengthen and lift those around me.
Ephesians 6:22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.