A few summers ago, my husband and I took our four small children for a hike on Washington’s Mt. Rainier. It was fairly early in the season, so there were few hikers around. Most visitor centers were still closed and the snow crowded the higher roads. We decided to hike farther down the mountain where all snow had melted into a rushing stream and the falls promised to be spectacular.
It was a beautiful hike with lush ferns, whistling forest birds, and a steady descent into a cool valley. Our kids were enthusiastic little hikers and they were more independent than ever before.
Snacking on cookies under a mossy 15 foot boulder, we heard a motorcycle approach. We were quite surprised at how loud it was, because there was no road around us for miles. It sounded like it was right above us on the boulder.
My husband frowned at me over our children’s little heads. I returned a questioning look, and the panic started rising in my throat.
In an instant, I knew it was not a motorcycle; there was no mistaking the growl of a mountain lion. With my heart racing and fingers shaking, we quickly gathered up the children and continued the hike at a faster pace. The kids wondered why they had to finish up their cookies while walking quickly, but all we said was that we needed to get going before it got too late.
My husband took the lead with the three year old on his shoulders, I took the rear, and we marched back to the car like our lives depended on it.
Considering that we heard that growl follow us constantly over the next 30 minutes, I believe our lives did depend on quick action.
I have never been so terrified in my life. The images of a winter-starved cougar pouncing on my babies and dragging one off into the forest will never leave me, and I still shake when I think of it. It was a real possibility.
I don’t know much about these big cats, but I do know that you can fight them head on if you need to, and I was more than prepared to stand my ground and fight for my children.
However, in this particular case, retreat to safety was the best decision. The hiking we do in Yellowstone around grizzly bears would call for a different plan–that’s when bear spray and curling into a ball are your best course of action.
No matter where we hike, we always need to be prepared for any dangerous situation and bring a healthy dose of courage. I tend to worry overly much about the risk of harm and injury, whereas my husband is the one leading us on to our goal. While I have literally cowered in fear at a waterfall trailhead (not one of my finer moments), my husband carefully weighs a situation and prepares for it. He is never one to take thoughtless action, but he can see the reward in a risk far better than I can.
These thoughts all come to mind because right now we all face daily decisions of risk versus reward. Death, disease, loss, sadness, isolation, and countless insecurities are knocking on our doors. They are following us down the trail of life like a hungry lion ready to pounce. We look frantically behind our shoulders and see shadows, hear the growling, and our hearts stick in our throats.
I imagine during this time we have all awakened from a restless sleep, worry and fear pounding a drumbeat we have to fight with all our strength. I know I have experienced this a couple times just over the last two weeks.
And yet: Have courage, dear heart.
In the midst of our fears and worries, we do truly have a choice in how we face our days.
In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the lion is strength, wisdom, and protection for the children, kings and queens throughout the series. Yet he slips in and out, and there are even moments when he appears to have lost a fight, died, or even forgotten the world he breathed into life.
In The Horse and His Boy, he appears as a fierce wild cat chasing the boy Shasta as he races through the dark forest. It is only when Shasta really looks carefully that he sees he is not being chased but is protected by that same lion.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy Pevensie fears all is lost and cries out for Aslan, only to worry he is far gone and uncaring. Yet in the midst of panic and fear, she hears the whispered words, “Courage, dear heart,” and she knows in her heart and mind that Aslan is there and that with him she is more than capable of handling what is demanded of her. Her resolve and bravery is renewed.
It seems to me that we have a choice every day: will we let the growling, stalking lion of fear determine our choices, or will we look and listen carefully for courage and direction to do the right thing?
This choice is no different today than it was yesterday, a month, a year, or 100 years ago. Death and disease are a daily part of life, but sometimes we think we have them at bay or under control.
We do not. We truly do not, ever. Those dangers are always there, lurking, stalking, ready to
pounce. If it is not one predator, it is another. And they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
We probably all have different ideas of what the “right thing” is right now. Some of us are worried about disease, death, and economic uncertainty. That fear might be for others, it might be for ourselves. Even opening the mail can feel like a risk (and if it’s a bill, there’s certainly no reward in that). None of those fears are unfounded.
Allowing that fear to determine our thoughts, words, and actions is not, however, what gives man meaning, fulfillment, and reward. May we all valiantly face our fears, listen to that still, small whisper that speaks wisdom and courage and love, and move forward despite the shadows lurking about us.
Have courage, dear heart.