We climbed the mountain last week. Mt. Wrightson, at 9,453 feet, is the tallest mountain in the Santa Rita range south of Tucson, Arizona. On our last day of vacation, we decided to do a little day-hiking. And what were we thinking?
Not much. We set off with two large water bottles each, a bunch of granola bars, two bananas, and several tangerines. Sunscreen on skin, hiking sticks in hands—off we went on the zigzagging, rocky trail up and away.
The day was as perfect as it could be—sunny but with ample shade on the mountain face we were climbing, perfect temperature, not even a breeze. At the half-way point, we all decided we were in such great shape that we’d keep going all the way to the summit. With steady ascent and a few short stops along the way, we reached the top in about five hours.
So many thoughts rushed through my mind as I turned and took in mountain-top vistas in all directions. Here we were, tiny humans in a vast universe—like ants on top an anthill we looked, I suppose. And yet, for us humans—we thought we had conquered the world—or at least, that part of the world. To stand taller than all, to look down upon all—there’s a thrill in that.
We ate and watered and chatted with others who had made the summit—people from Minnesota and Colorado. One even brought their beautiful Golden Retriever so we were able to get our dog-fix on top of the world! We took pictures of each other and even signed the guest book. Yes, there was a notebook of names on the summit, kept in a metal box! Our about-to-be fifteen year old signed for us.
Before heading back down the mountain, we chose our route and calculated our descent time based on our ascent time. We figured that going down would be easier and faster than coming up. Three and a half hours—that’s how long we figured.
Not too far into the hike down, my left knee started hurting. A downhill ski injury from years ago started reminding me that my 53 year old knee was not what it used to be. Thankfully, hiking sticks helped absorb the shock of each downward step. However, by the half-way point, I was hurting badly. The rest of the way down seemed like an eternity. Every step shot pain through my left leg. Then, my right leg started hurting because it had been compensating for my weak left leg. Both legs started wobbling from fatigue. My arm muscles burned from planting hiking poles on every step. Two miles before the end, I wondered seriously if I was going to make it down. Would my knees lock, my legs collapse? Would I really be able to sustain my mind-over-matter attitude? What if I just plain couldn’t keep going?
I fell a couple of times, legs revolting. And my dear husband, five years older but with stronger legs—he stayed behind me the whole way down, gently coaching me, watching me, protecting me. I told him he could go ahead because I knew my pace was horribly slow. He wouldn’t consider leaving me to hike alone. A couple times, he held my hands and guided me as I hiked backwards to ease the strain of the grade on my knees. I trusted him to guide my steps I couldn’t see.
And he asked sweetly, “Are you seeing a blog post in this?”
He knows me so well. I had it already written in my head. . . .
Isn’t it amazing how we think achieving great things in life is most difficult? Set those goals! Keep going! Reach higher! You can do it! The pain is worth the gain! And we reach the top, satisfied. We love reaching mountain tops—pushing past what where thought we could go.
But reaching mountain tops isn’t the most difficult part of life journeys. Going down is hardest for humans. Recognizing we’re not as invincible as we thought—this is hardest. Getting our knees to bend when they rebel is hardest. Bending the knees of our will is harder than bending any part of our body. Pride is the downfall of humanity. The original seed of sin had pride at the core and we all have sprouted from the exact same seed. . . .
We want to run our lives—our way—and we think we can—until reality comes knocking and tells us we can’t. Often, it takes something outside of us to make us bend the knee of humility. And because we’re so stubborn, so pride-full, we end up experiencing far more pain than necessary before our will finally collapses from exhaustion.
How much smarter we would be to recognize the limitless tendencies of our pride-full hearts and choose to bend our knees to God and His ways before being forced by circumstances. How much more pleasant would our life paths be?
I discovered the sweetness of leaning on a stronger one than I while coming down that mountain. I prayed for God to help me and He did. My journey wasn’t really as much about my legs as it was about my heart. I confessed my prideful heart that refused to bend her knees. I admitted to God that I’m not God and asked for help to realize this truth sooner rather than later in my days. And I accepted His provision for the moment, gratefully. I accepted my husband’s help, humbling thought it was, and experienced the beauty of receiving when in a needy space. Strong arms, a tender heart, someone to stand beside you and behind you when needed, someone to encourage you, someone to refresh you with water when parched, someone to help you up when you collapse, someone to hold you and keep you from falling—these are the things of God and of those who love God. These are the things that make us want to fall—into—love. Because love like this—this is all we really want and need, right?
Achieving the heights is nice, but it’s the collapsing of knees that brings life’s best blessings.
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Psalm 95:1-7
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11