About ten years ago I went on a business trip to Anchorage, Alaska, with two colleagues. After our meetings, we had a few hours to kill and, because it was summer and the sun didn’t ever go down completely, there was lots of light left before our scheduled midnight flight. One man was familiar with the area and said he knew a really great hike we could take, so off we went. I couldn’t tell you where we ended up other than I remember that it was near Prince William Sound.
We parked the car and started up what looked more like a deer track than an established hiking path. Whatever it was, it went straight up, and up, and up. I was in grad school at the time, and the extent of my daily workout was dashing across campus to get to class on time. Let’s just say I wasn’t in mountain-climbing shape. The higher we climbed, the more breathless I became. Just as I thought I would collapse, we turned a corner and there was a beautiful sight—a bench. I don’t remember if it was a wooden or a stone bench. It didn’t really matter. At that point I wouldn’t have cared if it were an ice berg—I just knew I needed to sit down and rest, NOW! So I did. After a few minutes, my better-in-shape colleagues suggested we finish the climb to the top of the . . . I don’t quite know what to call it. It was steeper and higher than a hill but not anywhere near what I would call a mountain. Let’s just say they suggested we climb to the end of the path where, according to our guide, the view from the top was to die for. As dying didn’t seem too far from the realm of possibility for me at the moment, I told them to go on without me; I simply didn’t have the umph to continue.
After about ten minutes, I heard the two of them calling to me. I found out later that they were just calling my name to say hello, but I didn’t know that at the time. If I had, I probably would have just yelled back at them—if I could have summoned up enough breath to do so, that is. As I couldn’t really tell what they were saying, I assumed they were encouraging me to join them at the top, which, as it turned out, was only about another five minutes of hiking from where I sat on my bench gulping air. I was pretty ticked off. After all, hadn’t they seen what a hard time I was having? Why, I thought, couldn’t they just leave me alone on my little pity party bench? The yelling went on, and I decided that they weren’t going to stop until they saw me at the top. So I stood up, put one foot in front of the other, and, grumbling and griping with every step, made my way up the rest of the incline. When I got to the top the complaints died on my lips; the view was indeed spectacular. In front of me was an incredible rounded valley with a glacier at one end of a bay of milky-blue water with green, flower-dotted expanses on either side. I had to admit that the pain and discomfort of my earlier breathlessness was more than worth the payoff in breathtaking beauty.
I have often thought about what I would have missed if I had not gotten off my . . . bench and struggled to the end of the trail. Not only would I have missed a stunning view that I likely will never see again (since I don’t really know where the trail was), but I also would have missed experiencing a valuable metaphor for living.
My life often seems like one continuous, overwhelming climb straight up a steep mountain trail to an unseen destination. There are times when the circumstances of my life seem to be more than I have strength to endure. All I want to do is find somewhere to rest. At these times, I don’t really care about what good things might be at the end of the trail—I just want a chance to emotionally, mentally, and spiritually catch my breath.
Sometimes all I need to do is give myself permission to take a do-nothing day to watch television, play computer games, do a jigsaw puzzle, read a fantasy book, or take part in any other mindless activity that seems inviting—anything to distract me from life and its challenges for a while. However, there have been times when these episodes of do-nothingism have gone on for days, weeks, or even months at a time. During these periods I tell myself that I really don’t care that I’m sitting by while others hike past me—but I know that’s a lie. I do care. I hate feeling stuck in one place. I hate feeling disengaged with life. I’m certainly not going back to the bottom of the path; I’ve worked too hard to get this far up the mountain. But the mere thought of leaving the familiarity of my bench paralyzes me. What if I slip and fall all the way to the bottom? What if I truly can’t make it to the top? What if I make it to the top only to find there is another mountain to climb before I see some positive results? What if there is never another place to rest?
Nonetheless, through all the clamor of fear and doubt, there is always God’s sweet whisper constantly pleading with me to trust the path; to trust that I can call upon His strength when my own is exhausted; to trust that I am never alone on this journey; to trust that whatever the cost, the end will be worth it; to trust that He wouldn’t have invited me to make the ascent without providing the means to reach the pinnacle.
I think God intends for us to take time to catch our breath from time to time. In fact, looking back over my life, I recognize that there have always been times of rest between trials. The important thing during these times is that, even though it seems like I am standing still for the moment, I continue to look upward and stay focused on where I am going and Who I am following. Then, when it is time, He calls to me to begin anew, reminding me of His promise that if I answer His call to start on the path, He will make sure I finish.
Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_7944152_sport-shoes-on-trail-walking-in-mountains.html’>blasbike / 123RF Stock Photo</a>