Often my favorite parts of vacations are the unexpected, sometimes grueling journeys through nature that push us beyond what’s comfortable.
During a recent camping and hiking trip, my husband, Andrew, and I planned to hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park to see the sunset, but we were running behind at setting up our campsite, so we decided to drive to the top instead. Disappointed not to do the hike but also excited for a little rest, I left my hiking boots behind and put on my Teva sandals and climbed in the car.
We found the road up to the summit of the mountain blocked off, and since we were already cutting the timing close, it seemed we missed our chance to see the sunset from the top of the mountain.
I was ready to give up, but Andrew looked at a list of nearby trails and found a short one to the top of an adjacent peak. We decided to give it a shot, and began hiking at top speed up a rocky and very steep trail.
Though the trailhead claimed it was only a little more than half a mile to the top, it felt much, much longer. Around every bend we found another steep incline or rock scramble. Just when we thought we were done, we had to keep going, with no view of the top.
At one point I stopped and yelled ahead, “Are we even close?” Then I asked aloud, “Is it even worth it?” Andrew responded, “Of course it is—we have to get to the summit!”
So I kept going. The higher up we got, the more of the sun we could see, which gave me a surge of motivation. I started running—where I could—to the top, and when I finally emerged above the tree line and onto a rocky outcropping, a gust of chilly wind made me feel refreshed and alive.
Feeling accomplished for reaching the top, I yelled down to Andrew, “You’re almost there!”
He soon joined me and said, “This isn’t the summit.”
I was crushed.
I was not happy that we had to go farther. In fact, I would have been perfectly content thinking that was the summit and enjoying the view!
The sun was behind the horizon by now, leaving a beautiful streak of pink cotton candy in the sky. I wanted to stay where I was to take it all in, but Andrew was determined to keep going.
Sensing my discontent, he said, “You wait here,” as he continued to scout a path to the highest point. Several minutes went by, and I began to worry he had fallen off the side of the mountain. Then he called to me from the peak and directed me on how to join him.
As I approached, he pointed to a sign next to the rock sitting at the highest point and told me, “This is the summit!” But he had not yet made the final step—he was waiting for me. We approached together, then he climbed on the rock, and helped pull me up so we could both look out on what remained of the sunset.
I felt grateful that he had encouraged me to go beyond what was comfortable. Reaching the summit allowed me to see the full scope of the beautiful valley below. I also felt hopeful that our life together would follow a similar model—that we would help each other be better people until we both reach our ultimate destination of heaven.
“Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others,” Pope Francis reminds us in his recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultalte.
Marriage is a vocation to grow in holiness alongside a particular person, so it is important that we enter into that sacrament with someone who is also striving for greatness and willing to encourage us in our effort to do the same. I am thankful for a life-long partner who does not let me settle for mediocrity, and who is willing to walk with me, step by step, delaying his own accomplishment to help me reach greater heights.
The same is true of all relationships and all communities—we have a much greater chance of becoming saints if we surround ourselves with friends who challenge us to become better people. They nudge us forward when we are content with the view from where we stand. That is why, as Pope Francis notes, there are some saints who are canonized together in communities, such as St. Andrew Taegon and companions.
I thank God for the people in my life who help me become a better person. They remind me I’m called to do the same for others. We nudge and encourage each other to go higher.
Sometimes, we need help to realize we can reach the top of a mountain, or that we can live more virtuous and more joyful lives. But we also need to take a leap of faith to leave the place we are at if we hope to find more beauty ahead.