I have always loved nature. As a child, I would walk home from school. In those days if you lived close enough to the school you attended, you walked…the same neighborhood I lived in is now bussed to the same school I attended. Go figure. Anyway, as soon as I got home, I would change clothes and head outside. On some days my neighborhood friends would meet me and we’d find some thing to occupy us until we were called home for dinner. The season or the weather seldom made a difference. I would head outdoors on the cool autumn afternoons, the cold winter afternoons, and the warm spring afternoons. I had a vivid imagination and, if no one else was around to play with, I was content to be alone, making up some adventure. One of my most favorite pretend excursions was the adventure that I was climbing a mountain–a steep, snowy, windy mountain. The slope would be treacherously angled and I would struggle to make headway up its side, at times, falling back a bit. I would imagine myself so tired from the repeating pattern of step, step, step, fall… step, step, step, fall…
You get the picture.
In my mind, the most important thing was to get back up, no matter how many times I fell.
Sometimes I had the opportunity to live out, all be it in a very mild form, some of my imaginary climbs. Living in Western New York meant the Alleghany Mountain range was just to the south. While the mountains themselves, for the most part, were not climbable, tucked deep inside Alleghany State Park was a place known as Thunder Rocks. These were huge boulders–and when I say “huge”, think of a boulder as big as two story house. There were indentations and jagged edges all around the rocks. If given the chance to visit there, I would be sure to make it known that I needed to go climb the rocks. And just as it played out in my imaginary scenarios at home, often the pattern of step, step, step, fall was a common scene. More than once, though, I managed to reach the top of some of the rocks. What an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment as I stood high above the ground, breath coming hard from the work of the climb. Determination is what caused me to get back up even after a hard fall. It only took one successful accomplishment to stoke the fire of determination to conquer another rock. I vowed, someday, I would climb a real mountain.
Lately, I’ve begun to liken my spiritual journey to the imaginary climbing I did as a child. I see a mountain ahead of me–it varies by time but has been comprised of things such as grief, illness, and change. Sometimes the mountain is small in scale and I begin the climb with anticipation of finishing with ease. Other times, the mountain looms before me and intimidates me before I even take the first step of the climb. Many times I fall. Sometimes I want to just stay there, on the ground, wallowing in my unsuccessful attempt and wondering where God is and why He didn’t help me. After all, I think, He is the one who brought me to that mountain in the first place. The strange thing is, as much as my mind tells me to just give up, I don’t give in to its pleadings. Oh, I have come close in the past. I have stomped my feet in displeasure with God, I have told Him off in no uncertain terms, I have turned my back on Him–I have even tried to end my life on this earth. But here I sit, by God’s grace, still on the journey of life. For some reason, I keep returning to the mountains before me. I take a step, then another, and another…and then I fall. I find myself, sometimes against even my own will, getting up, returning to the base of the mountain, and taking yet another step–another attempt at the mountain that looms over me and taunts me with its difficulty.
What drives me to keep returning? To keep fighting? To keep climbing?
I know that it has very little to do with me. In my own strength I could never get back up time and time again to face a mountain that defeats me time and time again.
Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet who questioned God’s allowance of ongoing evil with seemingly no justice. Ultimately, he realized that God knows what He is doing. We just need to trust. Today I read this verse and it made me realize why I am able to keep attacking the difficult mountains:
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
The mountains in my life are not accidents–I have to keep reminding myself of that every time I fall. A mountain does not mean I stop and camp in the darkness of it. It is, rather, a tool that God can use to build my strength in order to face the next mountain that will be in my path. We all know life is not an easy stroll along a sunny beach day in and day out. We are bound to face mountains of all sizes. And since we are human, we are bound to fall now and then. But to not get back up and attempt the climb?
Well, speaking from my experience on Thunder Rocks, the view when you finally conquer the mountain is nothing short of spectacular. And the feeling of accomplishment goes a long way when digging for strength you don’t think you have.
I need to learn this more than anyone else right now.