We sang that in church a few weeks ago – (you can hear a version of it here) and I thought about that – what does it mean to “follow hard”?
It came to me in a camping trip my son Michael and I took to Shi Shi Beach (you can read about that trip in more detail here), on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State.
We should have made it to the trailhead by 1:00 that afternoon. For various reasons we left much later than expected and got there at 4:30. When we did, it was quite literally raining sideways.
We’d been told that it was a 3 hour hike, with a mile on the beach and, we’d heard, parts of the trail that were so muddy that boots got sucked off.
It was also February, and 3 hours after 4:30 would be well after dark – so we really felt like we needed to push it.
And Michael did. Between the two of us, we managed to get down to the beach, and then we walked. Hard, and fast, we walked.
The tide was out, the beach was flat, the sand was hard, and we walked in this little bubble of light from the flashlights. Occasionally, Michael would ask if I needed him to slow down the pace a bit, and I said no, because while we’d been told it’d be “just a mile or so” down the beach, we didn’t really know how far we had to go, so going full tilt as far as possible seemed to make sense.
We did get there, and the very next morning, the weather turned so bad that the scoutmaster made the wise decision to leave – and that’s what we did. There’s so much more to this – but this sets up the important part.
The tide had come in just after we got there, went out again overnight and was coming in again. We had to be out of there before high tide. There were parts of the beach that were up against a cliff, with logs that had been brought in over the years at the base, so it made decisions easy: you either walked out when the tide was out, or you waited till the tide was out. Dilly dallying around meant you got to have waves and logs in your face while you had a cliff at your back.
Not a good option.
Michael and I started walking out early because of problems with my leg; we didn’t want to hold anyone up. And so we walked.
Hard and fast, we walked.
But this time it was different. The only hard sand had waves lapping on it already, so we couldn’t walk there. The only sand we could walk on was now steep, soft, and at this moment, still dry, the kind you walk through more than you walk on, especially with heavy packs. In all this, we had to race that tide that was coming in so we wouldn’t get stuck on the beach.
And Michael, this time, did not ask if I wanted to slow down.
He didn’t ask if I needed to slow down, in fact, what he said was, “Keep it up, old man. I am not dropping the pace.”
And I followed.
I tried to stay within 10 feet of him, sometimes it stretched out to 30 or so – but I followed – because right behind us was that tide.
I had to follow.
I walked as fast as I could, with a stick for support, wind at my back, incoming waves to my left, rain and hail soon to follow.
Rest had to wait.
Pain had to wait.
Hunger had to wait.
Even thirst had to wait.
The deep sand had to be pushed through.
The creeks we’d come through on the way in had to be forded again on the way out.
The waves, dashed around.
Until we were off that beach, the only thing on my mind was following.
And then it hit me.
To follow hard is to focus on one thing and follow that.
Whatever it costs, however much it hurts, no matter how tired you are, you follow.
And when in Church we sing, “…and I will follow hard after you…” – it is Jesus who we are following.
And the tide? – I guess I see that as all the distractions of the world.
While we were aware of the waves, (you don’t turn your back on the ocean, ever, especially out there), not once did we stop to look at the waves until we were well off the beach, it would have taken time we didn’t have, and energy we didn’t have, from achieving our goal.
And we did that. We achieved our goal, and we did make it. The tide drowned the beach underneath it just as we made it off the sand.
It was not easy.
It is not easy, and it can and does cost to do this. There is no guarantee that we won’t be hit by some “rogue wave” in our lives, and honestly, a lot of us are, but as I think about it – the more we “follow hard” after Jesus, the faster we’ll get off this beach, to safety.
Michael went back onto the beach and helped some of the younger scouts make it to the sheltered area we were in, and eventually we got everyone to safety.
Some months after I wrote the above, I realized I was pondering it a lot, and as often is the case, it got me thinking. I realize that while I wrote the story because I had the image of that walk going through my head as we were singing in church, specifically, following Christ, accepting Him and His forgiveness, because hey, we’ve all screwed up, we’ve all sinned. It’s part of life. Recognizing that, and recognizing that the forgiveness is there if we ask for it, is all part of what it’s like to “follow hard”.
I thought back to Michael going back out onto the beach, with the tide coming in, a hailstorm starting (this was in February, yes, camping in February) – knowing that we’d achieved our goal of getting off it – and how he went to help others do the same thing.
I realized that in anything we do – we will have the opportunity, many times over, to do that – to help people who come after us achieve their goal of “getting off the beach” whatever that beach is in their lives – and in doing so, sometimes we have to go out onto the beach again. When we do that – with the waves crashing, and the hail coming, we then have to focus on that goal, to the point of being aware of, but not letting the storm and waves distract us from achieving it.
I thought some more, and learned that the song had more to teach me.
My mom, who reads these stories, has mentioned that this blog is my pulpit, so if you felt like you’ve just read a sermon, that’s cool. But I realize that not everyone reading this is a Christian, I know some of you out there personally – most, I don’t. And for you, this may not be a sermon, but just a story. I’m okay with that. I do hope and pray that the wisdom that He gives me in these stories is shared well, and that it blesses you in ways you can’t imagine right now. I also realize that this concept of “Following Hard” could be applied to any goal worth pursuing. And that thought alone has made me smile, realizing that in every challenge that I faced from that moment on, any challenging goal that I had to follow hard after, I would have both that trip to Shi Shi beach in my memory, and that song in my heart.