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A Wild Way to Walk

If you’ve had the privilege of visiting Denali National Park up here in the heart of Alaska, you might recognize these photos. Sweeping views of the winding park road pop up at every turn, and while the mountains are beautiful, and the braided rivers mesmerizing, I find that when I have visited, my eye is always drawn back to the road.

It’s the only one through the park, you see. Unlike other national parks that have many roadways, Denali has just one, and it only goes about halfway into the park. What is more, they only allow a certain number of visitor vehicles to drive this road each year. Limiting traffic not only protects the park, but it also protects the road, which is much more akin to a back road you might find in the country than any kind of modern roadway.

If you are lucky enough to get selected in the Road Lottery for a given year, you get to drive your vehicle into the park as far as the road will take you on a certain day. The rest of the visitors that come to the park each year can travel the park road by bus. The bus drivers act as tour guides, wildlife spotters, and safety experts as visitors who know nothing about the wilderness of Alaska travel into one of the simultaneously most accessible and yet positively wild and untouched places in the U.S.

One time when my husband and I visited Denali, we walked the park road for a bit after a hike. We were using the bus system, but busses only run every 30 minutes or so, so we just decided to walk the road until a bus came along. And I’ll never forget how it felt to stand in the middle of that dusty road, surrounded by towering mountains and great expanses. There’s something surreal about standing somewhere that you know may not have felt the weight of human feet for some time, and at that point in my life, it felt like the wildest place I had ever been.

Several years ago, though, a landslide washed out a particularly treacherous part of the road. It was (and currently is) impassable, so you could only get so far into the park. Seeing part of the road washed out, just vanished, was sobering. To think that busses traveled across that section of road each day, that I had walked along it several years before, was shocking given its current state. Suddenly, it made sense to me why traffic was always restricted. This road was fragile. This place was wild, and limited infrastructure does mean limited safety. Certainly, this is a road that forces you to trust.

And as I opened up my computer today, wanting to write about how we can avoid living guarded after being previously hurt in friendship, I found myself thinking of this road. You see, during my most recent visit to the park in 2019, the road was open, and we were able to drive over the section I had previously seen washed out. As we rumbled around that curve in the road, cut into the mountainside where there had previously been little more than a sheer drop down a dirt cliff, I remembered what it had looked like before. I wondered if driving the road would be safe this time, or if it would be wiser to just turn back now, never venture beyond this precarious point.

If you’ve been burned in a friendship in the past, perhaps you get this headspace. You’ve seen the devastation that can come when the road washes out, and you wonder if it’s wise to walk it again. This way of friendship is another road that forces you to trust.

I don’t know about you, but when I am forced to really look at the things I trust in this world to protect me and realize how fragile they all truly are in the face of a force of nature, it kind of makes me never want to go outside again. And in the same way, I think it’s perfectly natural to feel a hesitation to be vulnerable again after hurt in friendships, but I also believe the enemy uses this fear in an attempt to keep us living lonely.

If you’ve been afraid to step onto a new road of friendship because you fear the very ground might again give way beneath you, my encouragement for you today is this: You don’t have to trust the road itself when you trust the Waymaker.

Because the honest truth is that if you’re brave enough to venture out once more on another new road of friendship, even though you’ve seen or experienced wash-out, you might still experience that again. The very concept of friendship is precarious – broken people trying to intertwine their lives, which are already full of hurts and trials. Even with the best of luck, that road is sketchy.

East side of Pretty Rocks in 2016, where the landslide is now very severe,
ft. a very tiny Sean on the rock outcropping.

I could have chosen to never return to a place I love very much, all because I’d seen it fail before. You might be able to protect your heart from future relational risk by never opening up again, but it will be a lonely and uninspiring existence. We think that keeping people at arm’s length or only going an inch deep in our friendships will keep us safe, but it will not. The road of friendship, whether authentic or shallow, comes with the potential for calamity. 

So what’s the answer? Never engage in friendship because the risk is too high? Do we never venture back out onto that wild, beautiful, incredible park road because we know the way is potentially risky? No, but we do shift where we place our hope.

When we place our hope and trust in this new friendship working out, being better this time, choosing more carefully, tip-toeing around potential problems, never risking vulnerability – just to be safe, we’ll probably still encounter hazards on the road, because friendship is inherently messy.

But when we place our hope and trust for friendships in Jesus, the one who makes a way for friendship, the author of community, and the one who experienced messy relationships on earth just like we do, we ground ourselves on the Solid Rock, not shifting rock roads.

When I entrust my friendships to Jesus, the road may still wash out and relational fall-out may still come, but my hope and identity wasn’t hanging on that friendship being “successful.” When I trust Jesus with a new friendship, my prayer can become, not that all my needs would be perfectly met by this friend, but that I would be able to serve the Lord, image Jesus, and love that friend well as long as our friendship is set to last.

Friends, we can keep loving our sisters well, even after relational hurt, because our identity is not found in whether people always like us, and our worthiness is not tied to how well they love us. When we trust Jesus, instead of our friends, to carry our hearts on this wild way of friendship, we walk a way that is secure, no matter what happens along the road.

Our identity is not found in whether people always like us, and our worthiness is not tied to how well they love us.

You know, on the park road, many busses and vehicles pass safely each day, and yet, it would be unwise to forget that it is a wild road, fragile at places, narrow at others, with the very real potential for mama bear to be waiting around each turn. When I walk this park road, I am walking on wild land, and with that does come risk.

The same is true for opening your heart again to the pursuit of authentic friendship – it comes with risk. Even when I’m trusting Jesus with my heart as I venture into friendships, I am opening myself up to walking a road of hurt.

To me then, the question is not, Will I risk being hurt again? Because certainly I will. Jesus will hold my identity and my heart through it, but short of sequestering myself away from society, the road certainly comes with that risk.

So, the better question to ask ourselves as we venture out once more into the land of friendship after hurt is this: What kind of friendship is worth the risk of being hurt again?

If I’m assuming the risk of hurt either way, I would much rather take the wild way. If any road of friendship comes with risk, wouldn’t you rather take a way like the park road? One that feels wild and magnificent and worth the risk?

This is the friendship where all your protective instincts are telling you to not share what’s really going on in your life with vulnerability because that’s just ammo in the gun for when the friendship inevitably implodes, but you decide to share anyway. That’s a step down this wild way.

It’s the one where you let your protective walls come down, walls that you built after the road washed out last time. That’s another footprint on the hard-packed dirt.

It’s the road that has definite potential for you being burned again, but exponentially more potential for joy, fulfillment, and genuine community than any lesser, safer road.

When you make the conscious choice to walk the wild way, even though you’ve seen the road wash out before, you are pursuing a way of doing friendship that is actually worth the risk. It’s a way of vulnerability, authenticity, and – yes – trust, but in Jesus this time, not the pipe dream of a perfect friend.

I hope you’ll be brave enough to walk this road again, even if it has washed out on you before. I know it’s bumpy and imperfect. It has dips and potholes that come with actually sharing what’s going on in your heart and life. But as you walk it, don’t be afraid to feel that firm dirt beneath your feet. Yeah, it’s messy and it marks you, but it’s beautiful because it’s wild, because it’s real. And instead of letting the wild way scare you, what would it look like to trust Jesus with it? To recognize that it feels wild, but the very fact that there’s a road here means that many have walked this way before you, and they seem to be telling you it’s worth the risk to try walking this way again.

Love ya, friend.

Your Sister, Kimber

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