Following In His Footsteps

My hike up from the dark canyon was a nightmare until my father gave me strength.

Looking at the Grand Canyon rim far above filled my mind with anything but ease. I was with my dad and six other kids from my ward. We left our camp in the bottom of the Grand Canyon at dusk to avoid the heat of the Arizona sun as we climbed out. My pack was lighter than it had been hiking in, and Dad had lovingly given first aid to my blistered feet with moleskin, so I was feeling fairly capable of handling the hike ahead.

After two miles, we reached a small Indian reservation as darkness fell. After a rest break, we filled our canteens, dug out our flashlights, did some general regrouping, and resumed our trek.

As the night wore on, fatigue and aching muscles were not the only causes of my problems. I had learned to deal with physical exhaustion in competitive swimming. There were times when swimming one more length seemed impossible, yet I could do it because I knew that it was only one more lap. But to continue hiking without knowing how far I’d gone or how far I had left to go was entirely demoralizing.

We walked for four hours. My flashlight carved a hole in the blackness just large enough to show my dad’s shoes and the trail’s edge. There was no moon to see by, and nothing to look at on either side. It reminded me of the nightmare I have where I run as hard and fast as I can but get nowhere. At that moment I hated that canyon more than I have ever hated anything. I felt as though it was something personal, as if the canyon were gloating at my struggle to escape.

I never would have made it out of that canyon without my dad. Watching his feet, I methodically placed my own in his tracks. We stopped to rest more often than he needed; and while I drank the water he carried, he quietly lashed my bedroll to his pack. At one point, after stopping to share what little water was left, I somehow became separated from my dad by a few people. I could no longer see his shoes or hear his voice. I was frantic. Holding back the tears, I stumbled ahead until I resumed my place behind him. Slowly I regained my composure.

I suppose it was because of my weakened physical state that the last few miles of this monotonous journey seemed miraculous. Walking behind my father as we started our ascent of the switchbacks, I began to reflect. This was the hardest thing I had ever done, and at that point, I was not getting myself up the canyon trail. My dad was. Without his footprints to walk in, I felt lost. The side of the canyon became insurmountable without him.

The parallel became clear at that moment. Dad made the trek up the mountain so much easier just by his being there. I followed him without question. I knew he loved me and that he knew I was struggling. He wanted to get me to the top so I could look back and say, “I made it. I am here where I wanted to be. Let’s go home.”

If life is the trek up a mountain, and trials add to my humility and willingness to follow, then isn’t Father in Heaven, like my dad, there to make it easier if I but follow him? Isn’t it his great wish for me to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight. I am where I want to be for eternity. It is wonderful to be home”?

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus