I grew up in rural central Oregon, in a small logging community. As soon as we were old enough to drive, we spent as much time as possible of town, wasting gas, driving the hundreds of miles of available logging and forest service roads. We would leave on a Saturday morning with a cooler full of soda and some jerky and often return after dark. We weren’t doing anything in particular, just enjoying being out in the woods with friends. Logging roads are well-maintained gravel roads for the most part. It was not unusual, however, to find little spur roads off the main roads that allowed for some extra exploring.
I belonged to a hard-working family that worked together in a manufacturing business. My grandpa was the patriarch of the family – making many decisions for all involved, including vehicles. There was a food chain of sorts with regards to the pickup trucks. Grandpa had the newest one, my dad drove the one most recently replaced, allowing me to drive the hand-me-down from my dad. My grandpa had only a few rules when it came to his pickups: he always bought the largest V8 gas powered engine available, he always bought single cab long beds, and he never EVER bought pickups with four-wheel drive. Pickups were intended for one purpose: to work. Grandpa always told us, “if you need four-wheel drive to get there you don’t need to be there because you are playing.” Of course, being a 17-year-old kid with a two-wheel drive pickup only meant you had to get a running start at some hills that would normally require four-wheel drive to get up with the hope that velocity would make up for the lack of ability.
One Saturday two of my cousins and I loaded up and headed north of town for a day of exploring roads we had been down a hundred times before. We drove around familiar roads and stopped at one spot we liked because of the view of the valleys below. As we stood there enjoying the beautiful summer weather, one of my cousins pointed down a steep hill and asked if I had ever noticed a little two-track path going down the hill into the thick trees. I looked down the steep hill at the cool little road leading almost straight down from where we stood; it looked to disappear into the thick trees below. It seemed down in the trees we would find a little thicket with grass and a spring or a creek. I could see about half-way down the steep part of the road was a set of ruts which were the result of other pickups that had been out there when the ground was wet and muddy. The ground was now bone dry, but the ruts were deep.
I was the only driver in the group; my cousins hadn’t obtained their drivers’ licenses yet. One of my cousins, John, was far more adventurous than Lyn, my other cousin. John quickly suggested we go down and see what was at the bottom of the hill. I was a little leery, as the hill was steep, and even more treacherous, the ruts. When I voiced my concern to John, he laughed it off and told me he had made it up steeper hills before. It wasn’t long before we were creeping down the hill, riding the brakes to control our speed. About halfway down the hill, I realized that the ruts were far deeper than they had looked while standing at the top of the hill. At this point, however, we couldn’t stop and back up the hill. Our only option was to finish creeping down the hill and find somewhere to turn around and drive back up the hill. When we reached the ruts, it became obvious they were very deep – deep enough that a two-wheel drive truck with low ground clearance would likely end up “high-centered” – meaning the frame of the truck was sitting on the ground and the tires were off the ground with no way to move. I aimed the tires out of the ruts, straddling them keeping my tires on the high ground. We made it past the ruts to the bottom of the hill where the road disappeared into the trees. I hoped the road continued through the trees and delivered us out of this gully to a different road out, avoiding the need to try and make it back up the hill we had just crept down.
We drove no more than three hundred feet into the trees when the path ended: a dead end. There was no pretty meadow, no creek or spring, only a bunch of thick trees. We voiced our ‘oh well’ sentiments and I turned the truck around. I felt sick in my stomach. I was confident there was no way this two-wheel drive truck was going to make it back up that hill through the ruts. I said a little prayer and pushed my foot to the floor, getting a run at the hill. I aimed my tires between the ruts, trying to keep them on the high ground to avoid getting high-centered. We charged towards the ruts and made good progress until the incline reached an angle that made us slow the tires slipped down into the ruts. We came to a halt. I backed down and we tried again several times. Finally, we stopped to look at our options. After careful observation, John and I decided we needed to fill in the ruts so we could get up the hill.
We spent the next little while finding tree branches and rocks to fill in the ruts, trying to cover the damaged road to allow us to get out of the valley. It only took a few tries at the branch filled ruts to realize this was not only not going to get us out of the valley, but it was likely going to end up ruining the tires. I parked the truck and walked to a nearby fallen tree to sit and think. I overheard John and Lyn brainstorming what else they could put in the ruts to fill them. I sat and felt helpless, scared, and responsible for the situation we were in. I said a silent prayer to my Heavenly Father. I knew the answer was not going to be filling in the ruts because it was too steep and rough for a two-wheel drive to make it up. I knew there was no way out returning to the bottom of the valley through the trees. It was late in the afternoon and we were at least 20 miles from the nearest house. I poured my heart out in prayer. At this stage in my life I wouldn’t say I was one who spent a lot of time praying, but as is common when a person finds themselves in trouble, I was suddenly ready to commit to being the best person I could be for the rest of my life, you know, if I could just have this one favor from the heavens.
Fortunately, the Lord listens to us regardless of how negligent in praying we’ve been in the past. I began to beg. I prayed, “Lord, I knew better than to come down this road with only two-wheel drive, but now we are down here, and we are stuck. We have tried to get out a different way than we came in, but there’s no road. We tried to fill in the ruts and drive back the way we came, but it’s too steep and branches provide no traction. The only way we are going to get out is if we have a different way out.” I kept my head bowed for a few minutes, not sure what I was going to do to get us out of there. When I opened my eyes and looked up and saw what looked like a perfectly clear path just to the right of the rutted road. It wound at a more gentle slope, was covered in grass and had two small logs in the path. I had looked around several times in desperation before, but now I saw a clear path. I quickly stood up and walked to the open area. It was perfect! My cousins and I moved a few logs, I got in the truck and drove out without any trouble at all. When we got back on the main road I said a silent prayer of thanks. It seemed my cousins had no idea how scared I had been during the ordeal.
That day I felt I had been in a tough situation and had my prayers answered by a loving God. In hindsight, it wasn’t life-threatening as we could have walked out and eventually gotten the truck pulled out. The only risk to my health and safety would have been from an angry dad and grandpa for abusing the truck. It wasn’t until several years later this day came to my mind as I was teaching an investigator about repentance. Whether or not this comparison makes sense to everyone, it made perfect sense to me and to them that day, so I share the lesson I learned that day in the mountains as a personal parable.
In life, we are hopefully taught by loving parents and teachers the things we should and should not do in order to avoid the pitfalls of life and sin. In addition to being taught, we learn by watching others make mistakes and suffer from their choices. As I stood at the top of that hill looking down, I saw the ruts and the slope of the hill. I knew my two-wheel drive truck came with limitations. I also knew we were far from any help if we needed it. My choice to drive down the hill, in spite of the obvious risks, was influenced by my passengers wanting to see what was at the bottom. I gave in to temptation even as the knot in my stomach was warning me not to. I knew I had made a mistake as soon as we started down the hill but it was too late to stop and turn around. Once at the bottom my only concern was how to get back up and out of the situation.
With sin, we often know while we are making the choice that the decision is wrong, but still wait until we are at the bottom of the proverbial ravine before we worry about remedying it. The ruts we find in our path can be past sins of our own, addiction, or human nature. Sitting at the bottom of the gully, knowing full well there is no way the devices at my disposal were going to get me out was scary. Having two other people with me made it daunting. Having a father and grandfather at home who were going to kill me made it horrifying. Desperation to get myself out of the situation without involving a six-hour walk, an expensive tow bill, and angry folks led me to try things I knew wouldn’t work. Gravity and ruts were not going to allow me out, so I took several runs at it which put me at risk of damaging the truck. Filling the ruts with tree branches was as futile as repeatedly driving up the hill and expecting different results. It was only after I resigned myself to more than a simple thought to my Heavenly Father that He showed me the way out. When I raised my head from my prayer I saw a path, a path that was always there but I hadn’t seen before when I was trying desperately to do it on my own. The path was easy, once a few fallen dead trees were moved. It required no excessive speed or abuse of the vehicle and it led right back up to the top of the hill.
This comparison is in no way intended to suggest that the ruts of sin can be gone around or that we can easily avoid them altogether by taking another path but to the contrary. My attempts to go back the way I came represented how we as humans sometimes try to overcome sin on our own. “If I could just stop doing what I’m doing, I will be fine,” is a common thought for those of us caught in sin and wanting to take the easy way out and avoid the work of repentance. It is only when we admit that we have traveled down a path we knew we should not have traveled down and concede that we cannot make it back on our own that our Lord offers us another way. He doesn’t pick us up and place us back on the maintained road, He offers us a path that, with a little work on our part, allows us to make it back.
Better were it that I had never gone down that rutted hill, but once I decided to go down it, I am eternally grateful for the lessons I learned while getting back out. It wasn’t the last time I stood at the top of a hill in my life, seeing the steep incline and the well-established ruts only to throw it in drive and barrel down. Such is human nature. Those rutted hills have provided me with many opportunities to remember the one true path back after surrendering to human ignorance, and that is the Atonement of a loving Savior.
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