Canadian Wilderness Trip Lesson #5: Mystery

I do it all of the time to my daughters. It’s something I incorporate into a lot of our youth ministry events and activities.

Luke 6:31 says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

How would I handle having it done to me?

That was the question I was confronted with when Heath and Greg told us: “We will not be telling you where we are going, how far we are going, what we will be doing, or letting you see the map ahead of time. Each day will be a mystery.”

And each day was a mystery. We didn’t know if around the next bend we were going to have to get out and climb over a series of beaver dams, see a 1,400 lb. moose, find a dead end and have to turn around, find a 2,300 meter portage, or if we were going to hear those beautiful words, “that is our campsite for the night.”

I think mystery and adventure are what makes life, well, life. Of course I wish I knew more about God’s future plans for our lives, but I also know that that would negate the need for faith, and God calls us to a journey of faith. And so, many times I withhold information to cause my daughters and students to wrestle with the tension. Sometimes I don’t tell them things because I know that if I tell them ahead of time they’ll never go because it will be a tough challenge and I don’t want them to miss out on the growth they will experience from doing something difficult. Sometimes I don’t tell them because I want them to have the thrill of surprise as they get to do something really fun and amazing. Sometimes I don’t tell them because I don’t want them to get their expectations up only to be disappointed when things don’t go according to plan.

I think creating experiences in which my daughters and students have to live with mystery is really important because they are microcosms of life. In spite of our best planning, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes we encounter things that are difficult that we need to wrestle through to strengthen us and give us the experience necessary for something down the road, and if we knew about the challenge ahead of time we would chicken out. And sometimes we encounter things that pleasantly surprise us, blow our socks off, and leave us in awe – things we might not have experienced if we didn’t round the bend because we didn’t know what was there. Mystery is what makes life life, and what makes life worth living.

I love the tag line on one of my new favorite shows “Mountain Men”: “Live for a living.” And if you watch the show, you know that every day is a mysterious adventure.

One of my favorite quotes from The Fellowship of the Rings: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo.

I was really curious how I would respond to not knowing the specifics of the plan for our trip, but I was pleasantly surprised that I handled it well and simply resigned myself to living fully in each moment and not getting consumed with timelines and directions. It was a real heart-check for me as someone who finds myself, more often than not, in the position of leadership on many of the trips and experiences I participate in.

Embracing mystery is a tough thing for us because we like to feel like we are in control, but that is the essence of surrendering one’s life to the Lordship of Christ. You are essentially saying, “God, You are the Leader of my life. I surrender myself to your will, your plans, for my life. I will embrace my position as a follower, choosing to trust that You know what you are doing and where we are going.”

Some days you will find yourself in canals getting out and carrying your canoe over beaver dams every 100 yards. Some days you will be huffing and puffing and sweating and wanting to quit as you carry your 50 lb. backpack and your 50 lb. canoe on your back. Somedays you will be paddling on a calm glassy lake. Somedays you will be paddling against huge waves. Somedays you will find yourself filled with wonder as you are sitting staring at a 1,400 lb. moose just a few meters from you. Not every day will be easy. Not every day will be exciting. Not every day will be hard. But every day will be a mystery. Every day will be an adventure. Embrace each one as a gift from God.

Proverbs 19:22 – “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

James 4:13-15 – “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

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