A few weekends ago, Steve and I took advantage of one of the last dog days of summer and went hiking at Turkey Run State Park. We decided before we left that we would have lunch at the Inn after a short, easy hike. “I’m not really dressed to get wet,” Steve said. “Me neither,” I replied. “I don’t really even want to sweat.”
But somewhere between paying our entrance fee to the park and finally sitting down to lunch two and a half hours later, we ended up on the dreaded trail 3 that runs along and through a creek bed and includes lots of stairs up and down the West Central Indiana hollows. At one point, we faced three sets of ladders that would take us down the side of a rocky wall and eventually back to the trail head.
A large church group was just ahead of us on the trail, forming a bottleneck as children and adults climbed slowly down the slick, steep ladders one at a time. Looking at the trail map, we realized we could climb down just one of the ladders and then take another trail rather than wait for the remaining two ladders. It meant hiking an extra mile or so, but after seeing the long line, we decided to go for it.
But the line even for the first ladder was long. We tried going around as some other hikers were doing, but the alternate path was slick and muddy. I got scared, and we ended up back in line. It was finally almost our turn to climb down that first ladder. A couple in front of us were figuring out how to make their way down. They had an infant daughter with them who was fastened to the front of her daddy in a cloth carrier facing outward. As he began climbing down, it appeared as if the baby would be squished between him and the ladder. When he took the first step, I sucked in my breath nervously. The man stopped and looked at his wife, annoyed.
“What?” she said.
“You just breathed loudly,” he said.
“It wasn’t me,” she said.
“Oh, sorry, it was me,” I confessed. “I’m kind of a nervous nelly.”
“Oh gosh, don’t do that,” he said. “You scared me.”
The dad and baby made it down the ladder, followed by the mom. Then Steve took a turn, and finally me. Everything was fine. We were right to be cautious, and with a little patience and care, we made it safely down the ladder and to the other trail. Before we returned to the trailhead, we met up and passed the people who had been just behind us at the ladder. We had completed the one ladder and the much longer detour in the time it took for them to get through the line for the other two ladders and finish out the shorter trail.
I’ll admit that I felt justified in giving in to my fear. I commented more than once to Steve how wonderful the longer trail was, “It’s so different than anything else we’ve seen today,” I said, congratulating myself on making the safe choice. But I did wonder: would the other path have been more exciting? Did I miss something amazing by being anxious and scared? Suddenly, neither option was as good as it could have been.
Perhaps this is why Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Is it because our worry not only upsets others and causes us to act out of fear, but it also leaves us relying on our own judgment and second guessing everything that happens … even the blessings?
Here’s the interesting thing about this antidote to worry that Paul offers: he doesn’t say to present our requests to God and afterwards thank him for the answers. Instead, he says in the situations we face, we should offers prayers and petitions and gratitudes, all in the same breath. It’s another way that gratitude feels a lot like faith because we thank God for what he will do ahead of time, regardless of how or when he does it. And Paul says if we follow this plan of prayers and petitions + gratitude, we’ll receive something far greater than worry. It will lead to peace: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Obviously gratitude isn’t a magic formula for running headlong into danger. But it is part of God’s guaranteed plan for facing life’s normal anxieties with peace. And speaking of anxieties, the holidays are coming. The most wonderful time of the year is just ahead, and many of us experience it as the most stressful time of the year instead. Let’s begin now to offer prayers and petitions plus thanksgiving to God, trusting Him for his purposes and his peace even now.