When I was very young, my family spent a few days vacationing at Itasca State Park. I was only four or five years old at the time, and I remember very little about the trip. In fact, the only thing I remember about that summer vacation at all is visiting the source of the Mississippi River. I know that my mother and my sister were with me, I assume that my father was too, and if my memory serves me correctly, I was also accompanied by my aunt and my three cousins. I don’t remember how we had spent that morning or the afternoon, nor do I remember arriving to the park. Rather, my memory begins and ends with me being in what seemed to be the middle of the Mississippi River, carefully stepping from one slippery stone to another, as I tried to make my way across the water and to the shore. My sister may have played alongside me, my mother may have encouraged me as I went, and I likely lost my footing from time to time. However, if these things did occur, I do not remember them. I remember one thing and one thing only: carefully, yet clumsily, making my way across that mighty river.
Of course, this memory is hardly remarkable. But I do think that it represents an unmistakable metaphor for the journey that is life. For, it is so often that we find ourselves in the middle of somewhere (or, nowhere for that matter) not knowing how we got there, or where exactly we intend to go. We may not know what step it is that we are going to take next, and we may feel completely uncertain how, much less where, our feet will land as we put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Yet, we continue to move forward, despite our uncertainty. And we have faith that our journey will lead us to where we need to be. For now.
Much like in my memory of walking across the source of the Mississippi River, sometimes it is not our destination that matters most. And paradoxically, sometimes it is not the particulars of the journey that is most important either. Rather, sometimes, it is the faith that we have in ourselves and the forward movement that we are making in the face of uncertainty that is most valuable to us at that time.
So, if you find yourself stumbling from stone to stone, and you feel unsure about where it is that you are heading, do not lose heart. Remember that progress is not only measured by the direction we are heading, nor does happiness always depend upon the shore that we reach. In fact, it is not even the stones that we step on that most determine our outcome. Rather, what is most important during these times is the courage to act despite apprehension, the ability to persevere despite difficulty, and the faith that who we are and what we are made of is greater than any obstacle we may encounter.