It’s Thursday in Montana. I’ve had the trip of a lifetime, and now I’m watching the smoke from forest fires settle over Whitefish and hide the mountains from view, like a gray cloak concealing a precious work of art. Back home in Florida, my family and friends are bracing themselves for the threat of Hurricane Irma, which CNN is simply calling, “a monster.” With images of Hurricane Harvey still fresh in our minds, almost everyone I know has filled at least part of their days with prayer or worry or both this week.
I guess that’s why I am glad I had a very simple reminder about the nature of fear this past weekend. It’s one that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Let’s face it. I’ve lived in the burbs a long time. It has been far too long since I strapped on a pack and broke in boots and got excited about creek seats and wool socks. I’ve never stopped loving the backcountry. It’s just that sometimes—when you don’t do things often enough—you forget how much you love them. You forget that you can love them again.
All of that changed when my best friend and I arrived at Glacier National Park to be wild women of the forest.
This trip was at the very top of my personal bucket list. Montana in the summer. Mountain hikes. Mountain goats. Our plan was to spend a couple days at the amazing Many Glacier Hotel and do some day hikes, then set out for a two-day rafting trip and overnight campout on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, smack in the middle of Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest. The woods there have the largest grizzly bear population in the Lower 48.
Our friends and family back in the South were really interested to hear about our little plan to camp out, and they had helpful insight for us, like, “You will die.” But we were undeterred. We are grown women. We were once champions of summer camp (many, many years ago). And we had just recently seen the Wonder Woman movie, thank you, very much.
We weren’t inside the park more than a minute when we saw our first bear. Notice how calm I sound from the safety of our car, and how impressed I was with my bestie’s expert bear watching skills.
But then, just minutes after this sighting, we took our first hike.
We headed on the trail around Swiftcurrent Lake. It’s a popular one, but it doesn’t take long until the view of the mountains is swallowed up by pines and aspen trees, and the trail tucks behind a series of bends and curves. Despite a colorful tale of a grizzly encounter from a hotel staff person, my friend was completely undeterred. As for me, the sight of an actual, live bear was running through my brain on loop. (I may have been watching far too many YouTube videos of bears in Glacier leading up to the trip. There’s a lot of them—bears and videos.) I brought the bear spray and enough anxiety for both of us.
A few minutes out on the trail, a loud shriek blared from the bushes next to us. We had never heard anything like it in our lives. I did what any experienced hiker would do.
I screamed—twice as loud—and grabbed my friend for dear life. When I realized we were both still alive, we saw something that looked like this (exact species unknown). Except, in real life, it looked really mad.
So, that hike didn’t last long.
Between the bears and the killer squirrels, my fear was spiking. I began to worry if I had what it took to complete the campout. I thanked God for the day, and the safety, and went to sleep.
The next day, we hiked the Hidden Lake trail, off of Going to the Sun Road. We saw big horn sheep and waterfalls. Slowly, being in the woods began to feel normal. The fear was shrinking. As hikers passed us wearing bear bells (to make noise so the bears would stay away), we simply talked. And we stood in awe of the incredible views and remarked on all of the beauty God created, and we kept moving.
When it came time for the overnight along the Flathead River (after a very fun whitewater rafting trip), our guide pitched his tent down the hill, away from us. I was more comfortable in the woods by now, and I got to appreciate how beautiful they were at night—majestic and wild and filled with the alive sound of the rushing river.
And when we went to sleep, we thanked God for our safety and the gift of adventure. The fear was there, but it wasn’t in charge.
When my friend returned home to her family, I stayed in Montana for the rest of my visit. This time, I knew what I needed to do. I went for a hike all by myself.
As I walked down the trail, I didn’t have bear bells.
I didn’t have a friend to talk to.
So, I talked to God.
I praised Him for the beautiful scenery, and our gorgeous hikes, and the beautiful campout, and the peaceful, wild woods at night. And I was reminded that there’s a cure for worry.
Whether we’re facing down fear that comes when we’re trying something new, or when very real threats are looming—in the forest, off the coast, or in our own hearts—the cure is simple. The cure is praise.
Praising God is what we’re meant to do in a fearful world, in a world that is much bigger than all of our plans. It’s what we do because He’s in charge. And there’s nothing that can take away fear like praising the One who says there’s no place for it in our lives. Jesus tells us he will never leave or forsake us. He tells us that peace is available. And he tells us what to do when fear comes–in the fire, in the rain, and when we’re all alone.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7