Monday, October 20, 2008

A Hand Up & Hinds' Feet

Ever feel like you are facing an insurmountable task?

Maybe it is debt that has gotten out of control.

Maybe it is a habit that has begun to master your life.

Maybe it is relationship that seems irreparable.

I came across an account of a someone who was literally facing an obstacle he couldn't get over. In Making the Climb: What a Novice Climber Learned About Life on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dr. John C. Bowling writes the following as he is several days into his journey.

"(T)he long climb straight up turns out to be even more difficult that I had imagined. As I start the climb, I tell myself, 'If they' (the group of people he was climbing with) 'can do it, I can do it.' But about a third up the face of the wall, I can barely take one step after the next, pulling myself upward, stretching to get a handhold,and leaning into the face of the rock to keep my balance. 'Just take the next step,' I keep telling myself."

He continues, "I do my best to forget about the height of the wall and concentrate on what is just before me. Often I need both hands to pull myself where I can get a narrow foothold. I dare not look down."

"Freddie, (one of the guides) calls to me from just above, 'How are you doing John?'
'Not well, this is really tough.'
'Take a minute to catch your breath. You can make it.'"

Bowling goes onto describe climbing through "thick vegetation" and "sharp volcanic edges". He writes, "Each time this happens, my strength dissipates all the more. Finally, I stop. I just cannot go on."

About that time another climber passes him and asks if he is OK. Bowling responds, "I don't think I can make it."

It is that moment the guide begins to take charge. "Give me your pack."

Bowling writes, "That hits me hard. For to give my pack to someone else to carry is to admit my weakness in a very open and obvious way. Part of the code of the climb is that everyone must carry his or her own weight; yet here I am unable to go on. But after a few moments I slowly slip off my backpack and Freddie slings it over his shoulder. He must now carry his pack and mine. He pats me on the arm as he says quietly, 'It's all right, John, we'll do this together. Just put your foot right here.' With his encouragement giving me strength, I take a step, then another, and another. Without the weight of the pack, climbing seems a little easier.'"

Eventually, John and Freddie make it to the flat where the rest of the party is waiting. Dr. John Bowling, college president writes, "They had to wait on me. My whole life is about leadership, but now I can barely follow. My ego now aches more than my legs and shoulders. However no one is smug as I struggle to find a place to sit down. It has been hard for everyone."

As I read those words, I think of what the Psalmist wrote:

He maketh my feet like hinds' feet and setteth me upon high places. (Psalm 18:33, KJV)

If you're not used to King James' English, a modern translation makes it easier to understand:

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights (NIV).

Notice several things about this story:

First, the journey is hard for everyone at some point. Some swim well. Others climb well. Eventually we will all hit a rough patch. As often as we say it and much as we know it to be true, we still get surprised when the tough times come. But a well-phrased reminder can help us find our bearings again.

Second, as someone once said, "The help helps." When we come to that difficult place, being open to others who are experienced or strong or simply helpful can make our journey at best, enjoyable, and at worst, tolerable. May you find friends for the journey and be open to their hand when they offer it.

Third, there is an Unseen Guide who offers to enable us to scale the face of the mountain in order for us to stand on the heights. May you allow The Guide to take charge, not only of the difficult places, but throughout the journey. He knows the way.

Grace & peace

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