Watch Your Step

I love to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. Two trails come to mind: Temescal Canyon Loop and Paseo Miramar. The Temescal one has more brush and vegetation, so one needs to beware of rattlesnakes. Several years ago, I stumbled across a juvenile rattler as I finished the loop. I kept my distance, but it was still fascinating to watch it move. Here is an animal without extremities of any kind, but it moves on its belly quite rapidly. Some people find snakes repulsive, but I find them fascinating. In the case of rattlesnakes, they are dangerously fascinating.

Paseo Miramar is a much longer trail and with much less vegetation, meaning less shade and rougher in the summertime. The trail itself inclines upward as one progresses along the way. Sometimes the heat, the trail length and the degree of incline combine into a perfect storm of circumstances, which challenge each step taken along the path. I have not come across any reptilian wildlife on Paseo Miramar like I have on the Temescal Trail. Part of me is glad for that given the rigorousness of Paseo.

Hiking along these trails brings to mind the following passage in the New Testament: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, ESV). Each time I hike, I make sure to bring a canteen filled with water. I do not drink the water during the hike, but I pour it over my head and neck. Some of my buddies thought that I was wasting water; however, I explained to them that this method helped to regulate my body temperature.

When the sun shines bright and hot during the summer, I find it wiser to drink less during strenuous activity. In fact, drinking too much water leads me to experience nausea during vigorous exercise. There is a rhythm to staying hydrated while keeping the temperature at a level to avoid heatstroke. I guess you can say that I have acquired wisdom from learning the hard way. On some hikes, I bring an energy bar in addition to a water canteen. Paseo is one of those demanding hikes that requires some forethought.

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul exhorts and admonishes the believers about taking care of themselves spiritually. At some point, I learned how to brush my teeth, dress myself, take a bath, and read and write. I did not remain a child, but rather I grew up. The same is true for following Christ. There are things that I need to learn simply because I do not know them. This requires the discipline to keep learning, and it requires the discipline to apply the knowledge. Because this is a process, it is crucial for me to lean on the Lord, to yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life.

Through a combination of trial and error and discussing what others do during a hike, I have learned to look carefully how I walk. Another way to describe this is soul care. At the end of the day, I need to take care of myself, know my limits. It is important for me to say at this point that I am not advocating for rugged individualism. What I want to stress is the importance of recognizing that I have value and worth; therefore, I will own my part in taking care of myself. This does not mean never asking for help. It does not mean asking for a handout. The balance lies between the two. I need the Spirit’s help and the help of those within his church to watch my step.

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