Several times last week I thanked our God for the unique tradition of a Confirmation Wilderness Course. I have talked to a lot of people who attend and lead at a lot of other churches and I have never heard of another church that takes youth into the Wilderness to do their confirmation work.
One of the questions I ask the youth—especially after a grueling stretch on the trail or after discomfort or frustration is: “Why do you suppose we take you to the wilderness?” I mean wouldn’t it be easier to just stay at the Four Seasons on the beach? Or even at a scenic cabin in the mountains? We would still see God in all the nature, right? Not quite.
Wilderness trips—the hardcore kind where we leave everything familiar behind and willingly take on the unknown and uncomfortable—teach us, more than anything, to fully rely on God. When life is easy we forget. When life is hard we remember. This year’s trip to Olympic National Park, like previous trips to the boundary waters and mountains, again proved this to be true.
The first hardship was at O’Hare airport before we even left Chicago. Our plane needed mechanical attention and our flight to Seattle was delayed four hours! The backpacking itinerary was set months in advance and allowed little margin for a late arrival. Other than notifying our trip coordinator and trail guides we had to rely on God that the details would fall into place. Thank you God for skilled guides and coordinators who knew just how to make our itinerary work with the late arrival time.
Then prior to take off Katie Lancaster fell ill and was unable to travel with us, leaving me alone to fly to Washington, and manage all the confirmation students. All I could do was briefly discuss a plan with Katie and then rely on God. God came through with a miracle in the form of Christine Hides who quickly agreed to come and was on the next flight to Seattle. Thank You God for giving Christine the courage, and ability to respond so quickly to the need, and for making sure she had a seat on that one right flight!
That Sunday after a 23-hour day, my team was finally falling asleep next to the ocean, but the calm was short-lived. The next morning another teammate was feeling ill, and had to be taken off the course, and flown home. And God took care of us then too. Thank you God for helping make the difficult, but right decision to leave the course, and for getting our teammate home safely.
When we finally hit the trail we had to double-up on our mileage to make up time on the schedule. Our first day’s hike was thought to be six miles but ended up being about nine. Our feet were burning when we finished six and learned we had three more to go. We plodded along in silence. All the while I was asking God for help with each pained step. Thank You God for the strength and stamina to take each step along the way.
There was no greater relief than removing our stiff hiking boots when we finally got to camp. Thank you God for a measure of relief after pain.
This rhythm of needing God and relying on God repeated itself over and over again all week.
God delighted us with nature and wildlife. God connected us with each other in deep and abiding friendship and community. God bonded us together in laughter and tears. God enriched us in thoughtful conversations about faith, life, Jesus, sorrow, and suffering and what to write in a faith statement. God brought us safely home. God helped us pay attention to the thin places where we are inspired, unmasked, and transformed.
Thank You God for the youth you called into the Wilderness last week and for the guides who helped lead them. Thank you for carrying us through every hardship. Thank you for teaching us about you, each other, and ourselves. Thank you for letting us always rely on you.
If you want to hear more about our experience please join us at worship this Sunday, August 18 at 10 a.m., when some of the wilderness youth will read reflections about their amazing week.