It had been about an hour and a half since I’d last seen her. My girlfriend and I were hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada. There in the forest, we’d gotten off a trail and become separated. The college we both attended was only about 50 miles away, but she had not spent a lot of time in the forest before, and I was concerned. In these same mountains, another friend of mine had become separated from his wife and a search party had reunited them two days later.
I came upon a trail and wondered if she’d found it, too. If she had, I could only guess which direction she might have taken; because it was rocky, there were no footprints.
I stood there for a few minutes just staring at the trail, before deciding that she must have gone to the right.
I took a few steps in that direction and stopped, feeling conflicted about my choice. Then I sat down on a large rock to do something I’d found very helpful in other situations: pray. My prayer, I decided, was going to be a time of listening for God’s direction.
I’ve always appreciated these verses in the Bible: “Thou hast possessed my reins. ... How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!” (Psalms 139:13, 17). If I were a horse, the one who held my reins would matter quite a bit to me. When a horse really trusts the person who has its reins, everything is much more harmonious. God continuously sends us inspiration that helps us feel His care, and because He is entirely good, we can trust His guidance. But we need to be paying attention so we don’t miss it.
As I sat there listening and praying in this way, I got a clear feeling that my girlfriend had found the trail and had gone to the left.
But in a bullheaded way, I started walking to the right.
As logical as it had seemed to me to go right, as I went along – I must have gone a few hundred yards – it just felt more and more wrong. I could tell that the time had come for me to appreciate God much more – to let go of my own willful opinions and to not just listen for but actually pay attention to God’s guidance and follow it.
The Christian Science Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote encouragingly: “The good cannot lose their God, their help in times of trouble. If they mistake the divine command, they will recover it, countermand their order, retrace their steps, and reinstate His orders, more assured to press on safely” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 10).
That’s just what I did. Dropping my own opinions, I reversed my direction with a clear sense that this was the right way forward. It felt so good to feel God’s love and be enlightened by God’s guidance. And about a half-hour later, my girlfriend and I found each other.
Jesus said metaphorically, “If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (John 11:9, 10). In the darkness of willfulness, which blinds us to divine inspiration, we stumble along, away from the right direction. However, in the light of God’s guidance and the humility to obey it, the path forward becomes clear and correct.
My takeaway from all of this is reflected in this beautiful Bible verse: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
Yes, God shows the way. But our part is important: “Walk ye in it!” When we not only listen for divine guidance but follow it willingly, that’s when our prayers are most effective.