I would hike around, leap over creeks, collect odd-shaped leaves, and talk to Jesus. Then one day I came around a curve in the path and saw a black bear sitting on the trail fifty feet in front of me. Mid-sentence, my prayer caught in my throat.
The bear just watched as I tiptoed backward. Then letting out a loud scream, I turned and bolted. Confused by my commotion, the bear lumbered off into a thicket.
After that day, I could not re-enter the woods. I had not suffered a lick of physical harm; but despite that fact, I would tremble and sweat every time I got close to the tree line. I was mildly traumatized by the realization that something other than me—something big and fierce and entirely out of my control—also wandered around in the woods. And now I irrationally believed that evil was lurking there. Every tree stump was a dark, furry face. No more praying and leaf-collecting.
Around that time, my dad was accustomed to pouring his morning coffee in a to-go cup and taking a walk in the woods before work. He knew my former, avid love for the outdoors; he also knew my present anxiety. One day, Dad nonchalantly asked me if I wanted to join him on his walk. I gulped but nodded.
So Dad and I took a walk. We visited the same trails of which I had become so afraid. Though I kept a fretful eye out for my enemy, Dad also drew my attention to the beauty of the woods. “See that bird over there? Look at how the sunlight hits those leaves! This is where I want to clear for a pasture.”
I can’t say that I went right back to praying in the woods after that. It took me a few months to muster up the courage to go out alone. Even to this day, I still look twice at tree stumps sometimes. But I can tell you that the walk with my dad is what helped me start to reclaim my courage.
Aidan Gscheidle is a chef, poet, and rookie backpacker who listens to way too much U2. These days he is more afraid of waterborne giardia in the wilderness than he is of black bears. Someday he wants to get married and to run a food truck.
JANUARY 21, 2018
NEXT DAY STRETCH
Galatians 6:2 (NRSV) says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Whenever I read this verse, I think of that walk with my dad.
Each of us has a burden—addictions, anxieties, traumas, trials—and I realize that your burden may be much more severe than bumping into a bear. But whatever the weight of the burden or the degree of the trauma, I believe the call remains the same: Bear with each other. (No pun intended.)
If you can pray and heal someone of their trouble—Great! If you can produce the right words or the best Bible verses—Great! But before either of these, you must show up. Be present with your hurting friend, and they won’t be alone in their fear or pain.
Perhaps one of the most loving and courageous things you can do is to walk with somebody on the trails of their trauma and to point out the birds and the sunshine.