“It really is amazing,” I said.
“Pictures just don’t do it justice,” my friend replied.
“I want to go into it though.”
We only had a day at the Grand Canyon before we were moving on to the next stop, so we wanted to make the most of it. We got into the park and gazed into the magnitude of it, but we wanted more.
“Can we go down to the bottom?” I asked the park ranger at the info center.
“You can, but you can’t do it in one day. It’s too long of a journey, and if you get stuck down there, it gets cold, there's no drinkable water, and there are coyotes. So I would recommend (she said more as a command) go about three-fourths of the way down then come back up.”
"Great!" I said and we descended into the canyon.
And we were making great time. Three able-bodied college students. This was no sweat for us. So much so that by the time we got to our stopping point, we were well ahead of the time we allotted ourselves. As we sat on the orange, dusty rocks to eat the sandwiches we packed, an old man in a red backpack stopped and talked with us.
“Y’all been to the bottom?” He asked.
“No, park ranger said it couldn’t be done,” I said with a mouth full of peanut butter and jelly.
“Nonsense. They don’t know anything. I do it all the time, all you have to do is go down that trail for another 200 yards or so and you’ll see a faint trail turning to your left. You just follow that until you meet the shorter trail to the top,” backpack man said pointing to the trail and gesturing with his hands to the direction we would head. “It’s well worth it. That's the way I’m headed.”
He started off the path before we could even say thanks, or ask any other questions.
“Should we do it?” I asked.
“I mean if that old man can do it, we should be beyond fine to make it back to the top,” my friend replied.
After we finished lunch we headed down the trail, and not 200 yards down was a faint trail like he said.
Now, what we should have done was said: "This has been fun, we've gotten to see so much, let's head back up to the top and enjoy dinner."
So, we made a B-line to the trail and started our adventure.
The bottom of the canyon is like a desert. There’s nothing, just dust and rocks, as you're surrounded by the high canyon walls.
And the hike was going great until the sun began to set, and there was no sight of the trail that we were supposed to connect to.
If you think "sunset at the Grand Canyon", you may think of beautiful colors-reds and yellows turning to pinks and purples, as they dance over the crack in the ground, as the big ball of fire in the sky seems to disappear into the horizon. And you’d probably be right, I couldn’t tell you because all we saw was a shadow get deeper and darker as the sun disappeared behind the dauntingly vertical walls of the canyon.
And it was at that moment we all began to panic.
Our reaction to panic was to just walk faster.
So now we were three college guys power walking through the bottom of the Grand Canyon trying to make up time and get to the trail.
Then we found a single tree, which only meant we needed to climb it to get a higher vantage point so we could see the trail. So three college guys are now sitting in a tree that is almost ready to snap under the weight of us, as we look and see nothing for what seemed like miles. We got down from the tree, with the visible light fading away replaced by a looming darkness, for the first time in my life I had the thought: “I could die today.” Like that is a very real possibility, it is dark, we have no water, I am small, there are coyotes.
And in that moment, I realized just how small, weak, vulnerable and how dependent I am.
But also, then in that moment, I realized that’s how we are supposed to come to God.
All throughout scripture God calls people to the wilderness. He talks Abraham, Moses, many of the prophets, and Jesus to the wilderness. He does this because in the wilderness you realize just how needy you are, and it’s in the wilderness you have to rely on God.
You don't come to God, chest puffed, showing all that you've done. No, you come hands empty. Knees bowed, in need of Him.
But don’t get me wrong, the wilderness isn’t fun. It is often terrifying as you sit alone for an unknown amount of time. I have no idea how long the wilderness, the isolation, the new city where you don’t know anyone. The broken relationship, the friendships that ended, the financial difficulties, whatever the wilderness you are in, will last. But I can tell you that it is no accident that you are in it, nor will He leave you in it.
In the book of Isaiah God speaks to His people saying-
“For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;” (Isaiah 32:14)
He says the place that they are in is empty, it’s dead, they are alone. The place is so desolate that the animals have taken over. They are in a place that is wild and untamed. He says they are in the wilderness.
But then He makes a promise. The promise is He will not leave them there. And neither will He leave you in your wilderness.
“Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:15-17)
In the wilderness, God turns pain into purpose. He turns isolation into intimacy. Because in the wilderness you find the maker and sustainer of life to be enough. The wilderness is hard, but it's so worth it. Because He is worth it.
“What are we going to do?” I said desperately as we sat down on a rock, given up. We sat there finishing out our last bit of water in the darkened canyon.
“Turn Left!” a voice bellowed from above.
“God is that you?” my friend said. As all three of our heads perked up.
“Hey! Turn Left!” The voice shouted again.
We looked up and saw a red backpack attached to an old man yelling down to us from the trail back up.
“Well let’s go!” We all said together as we headed up toward that man.
God takes us into the wilderness to show us our need. To teach us to depend on him. To sometimes force us to come to him with empty hands saying “I need You, You are enough” And as you do you get to learn just how much of a provider he is. As he turns “wilderness into fruit fields” and show His children "there will be peace, quietness and a trust forever."
*photo from that day in the grand canyon (Spring 2015)