Yesterday our family went for a hike at one of our state’s fantastic parks, Hanging Rock State Park. After a leisurely picnic lunch, my wife and I, along with our children (9 and 6) packed some day packs, water bottles, and snacks, laced our shoes up, and set off on the 1.3 mile Hanging Rock Trail to the park’s namesake overlook. It was a challenging hike with a variety of terrain from well groomed rock paths to almost indiscernible steep climbs up rocky parts near the top. Jessi and I are experienced hikers and have climbed in all sorts of terrain all over the United States, so we were comfortable that this would be routine, even if we had to push through some tiredness for the kids. Nevertheless, we each carried a day pack, more water than we thought we needed, and a first aid kit.
What surprised me most as we worked our way up the trail was how many people were HIKING IN FLIP FLOPS! Now, I must admit that I had sandals on, but my sandals were closed toed Keen sandals designed for this terrain. The scene we saw over and over was much like the photo above – just ordinary bathhouse flip flops trekking up the rocky terrain, often with no water and no pack. I was appalled at these people’s ignorance and lack of preparedness, and fearful for some of them. I was just waiting for someone to come running down the trail screaming for help that their friend or family member had a broken ankle, severe cut, or dehydration.
Our day was great. The Hanging Rock overlook was beautiful and on the way down we chose a side trail that took us to the other side of the mountain and added another 1.5 miles to our trip. After we got done with our great day in the woods and our kids had survived, we drove into town and sat down to dinner and some well earned beers. As we recounted the day with the kids, the topic of hiking in flip flops came up again. We discussed with them that it is dangerous and even if you can do it, you are putting yourself at risk in an environment where injury or accidents can be magnified because of the difficulty of getting help. It shows a lack of respect for nature and your fellow hikers when you wander into the woods unprepared.
Today I got to thinking about this analogy to life. How many of us hike through life in flip flops in so many ways?
When we dive deeply into relationships that we’re not emotionally prepared for, aren’t we risking a nasty cut? When we buy things we can’t afford with credit we shouldn’t be using, aren’t we taking a chance of a sprained ankle with no way of getting out? When we take a job just for the title or the salary without any consideration for how it fits our abilities and strengths, aren’t we destined to get dehydrated and famished professionally? When we never say ‘no’ to our children and allow their activities to take over our family time and burn themselves out aren’t we walking the path of life without proper protection for our emotional selves?
I believe that the answer to all of these is yes. This is not to suggest that we should over plan and over prepare for every moment or situation in our lives. That can be debilitating. What I think we should do is think about what is happening in our lives and consider whether or not we’re prepared to handle the curve balls that life can throw at us? To my knowledge, none of our under-prepared fellow hikers yesterday were seriously injured on the trail. What I’m sure of is that most of them traipsing through the forest in their bathroom sandals didn’t maximize their opportunity. They got tired too quickly, ended with very sore feet at best, blisters and cuts at worst, and they were physically and mentally exhausted when they got back to their cars.
I’ve put myself in this situation emotionally and relationally before and every time I look back on it, there was an opportunity to take stock of the situation and consider whether or not I was ready to start down the path. Sometimes I thought I was and just took off, only to realize how woefully unprepared I had been, forcing me to either stop or turn abruptly to avoid troubles. Other times, when I’ve slowed down enough to think about the journey I’m about to take, I’ve realized that I didn’t have everything I needed for the journey I was about to embark on and either adjusted or delayed the plan. One recent example came as we were looking to buy a new car. We had DECIDED we were getting a crew cab pick up, a new one, and had even narrowed it down to 3 choices. We took them all for test drives and looked at financing options on each one. Every time, the numbers came back and slapped us in the face – you can’t afford this. Then the dealers inevitably showed us how we could – Just Lease It! Sure, you’ll be beholden to us to have a car payment forever, but we can get it into today’s monthly budget and you can have this new car!
Thankfully, we stopped before we ran down the trail of leasing a car in our flip flops. We decided to take another night and think about it. We talked about it and decided we just weren’t willing to get into a lease where we’d surely never own the car and inevitably just continue on with more payments when the lease was up. We took stock of whether we were prepared or not for this journey, and we weren’t. So we delayed the journey a bit and re-thought if it was the right journey to take. In the end, we ended up buying a used sport-wagon that we could purchase with a traditional loan payment we could afford for 3 years. We decided THAT was the journey we were prepared for, and it still was satisfying and met our needs.
We should all guard against the risk of unprepared journeys in our lives. By simply taking a few precautions, slowing down to evaluate the situation, and being as ready as possible before we set off, we’ll be ready for the rocky trails that we encounter in life. So put on some decent walking shoes, you never know how tough the path might become.