“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” ~ Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT)

Hiking has become one of my favorite activities when I’m at home. There’s a huge network of trails near my house, so more often than not I will drop my kids off at school and then go for a meander through the woods. I like to think that I’m following in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, who was known to take long walks. I’m also intrigued by novelist Kevin J. Anderson, who takes a voice recorder along on his hikes and actually writes books on the trail. Regardless of the inspiration, it’s a great way to seek solitude in the midst of a busy schedule.

I usually pass quite a few other people on the trail. Usually a nod or short verbal exchange takes place. The other day was a little different. I encountered a man who was standing at a fork in the trail looking a bit confused.

“Do you know which way goes back to the visitor’s center?” he asked.

I began to tell him the answer. I’ve hiked these trails since I was a little kid, and would like to think I was in a position to help. We’re in the suburbs, mind you, so it’s not like the man was in danger of getting full-on lost. That being said, some of these trails form really long loops, and the signs aren’t the best. Depending on which route he chose, he was anywhere between 3 and 13 miles from his destination, which could make for a long afternoon.

As I began to tell him the best route to go, the man did the strangest thing. He held up a hand.
“Sir, you don’t understand,” he said. “I know these trails rather well.”

It’s harder when you’ve been there before.

I started running back in 1998 and did really well with it. I lost a bunch of weight. I even ran in a few road races, culminating in a marathon in 2003. But somewhere along the way, I got blown off course and quit running regularly. That first time around I didn’t know what I was getting into. It was hard, but I expected it to be hard. The thought of starting again is daunting because I know just how much work I put in before.

People often say that the hardest step of a journey is the first one. I think admitting you don’t know what you’re doing might be harder. I think there’s a reason why the first statement out of Jesus’ mouth at the Sermon on the Mount was “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). You have to start from that place of humility before you can get anywhere.

It’s hard to ask for help. It’s hard to admit you don’t know what you’re doing, when in a sense you totally know what you’re doing. You just happen to be in uncharted territory. It’s hard to pay your dues when you feel like you’ve already paid them.

When people get into situations like this, they love to forge ahead, shouting “Just do it!” as they run off a cliff. “Analysis is paralysis,” they’ll add. But something about this feels wrong. It’s like you’re operating out of the wrong place. Humbly seeking advice and then acting on it might be a better approach. Sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer. Some things require a more oblique approach.

The guy on the trail reluctantly took my advice because he knew he needed it or he wouldn’t have asked in the first place. I am following his lead and looking for areas where I need to ask for advice. Whether my journey ends up being a shortcut or a long machete trek through the weeds, this feels like the best way to go about it. It’s going to be an adventure either way.