Recently, my husband and I took a hike near Joshua Tree National Park, intentionally staying away from the popular trails to make “social distancing” easier. Indeed, we encountered no one else along the way, and felt safe from any COVID-19 contamination. The downside of avoiding trails is that the terrain is not well-worn and rocks were crumbling beneath our feet. The steeper it got, the more unnerving it was to grasp for a ledge that turned out to be lacking in security, or to step on stones that gave way. We had not really planned to “climb” rather than walk, and my shoes were definitely not the recommended variety for some of the sections. But somehow, a certain peak became our goal, and we were soon past the point of no return. I also did not want to go downhill on the steep, unstable terrain we were currently on, fearing it could quickly turn into a disastrous tumble, so up was the only option. At long last, we made it, and saw a beautiful panorama of hills, rocks, the valley below, and the distant mountain ranges. Away from the media, the statistics, and the rush to stock up on toilet paper and disinfectant, it was easier to remember that God, the Creator of the universe, was still present and still Sovereign.
On the way up, my focus was on the rock directly in front of me, so I was constantly making each tiny decision of where to put my foot. I had my subtle worries that I would end up in a spot too steep and crumbly to ascend, and occasionally wished I was “on belay,” with a rope to provide security. But along the way I also found pockets of shade to catch my breath, drink some water, and rest enough for the next section. Those were the moments to enjoy at least a partial viewpoint, to note how far I’d come, and to be mentally prepared to go further. I knew that if I was dehydrated and overheated, I’d be unable to make it.
Along the way, from our picnic at the bottom all the way to the summit, I also enjoyed the details: the spring buds of color. It is definitely the right time of year to be in the desert, with cacti boasting fuchsia blooms, and yellow flowers gazing out from the rocks, turning golden from the sinking sunlight on the way down. When taking time to look more closely, there were also tiny cobalt blue flowers displaying beauty enjoyed by few eyes, yet surely valued by their own Creator, our own Creator.
If I had focused only on the possible disasters, or the poor shoes, or the crumbling rocks, the hike would not have been half as enjoyable. But because I could look forward to reaching the summit and enjoy bits of beauty along the way, it has been a memorable event shared with my husband.
What Does this Mean in the “Real World”?
It’s much easier to get a clearer focus when surrounded by nature, but what about in the midst of our daily sources of stress?
Sometimes we find ourselves on a steeper slope than we were expecting. Instead of just finishing the school year, students and teachers are completely restructuring classes to work online, parents are learning how to homeschool and/or balancing having children at home while adjusting their own schedule and location. Many jobs are lost, some become more risky, others are also facing drastic re-structuring. Many feel like life might be about to crumble as forms of security vanish, and it feels like there is no rope to grasp. Some feel anxiety taking over, others are just exhausted. It’s hard to see where the end point is.
We need to take time to pause, find a place to rest and catch our breath.
To make it to the top, we need to quench our spiritual, emotional, and relational thirst. What helps you feel refreshed? When was the last time you sat in the Presence of God, soaking in the promises of His Word?
We need to cool down. Maybe the frustration and anger that come from all the disasters we weren’t expecting are starting to boil over into other parts of our lives and relationships. Maybe our hearts are pumping from fear of what lies ahead. Emotions are normal; the question is how to manage them. What brings you joy? When was the last time you implemented creative activities, or tried something new?
We need to find reasons to be grateful. Even in the difficult times, we can find beautiful details. Maybe you are realizing the privileges that are easily taken for granted until they are suddenly taken away. Maybe you are learning skills and knowledge we never would have without this crisis. Maybe you have opportunities to express love in different ways and strengthen relationships. Intentionally identify reasons to give thanks.
We need each other. While my husband and I both made it to the top successfully, on the way up it was comforting to know that if something happened to one of us, the other would (hopefully) still have the capacity to get help. We were able to encourage each other and to share moments of appreciating beauty. Who do you have to turn to (even if not physically)? How can you together identify ways to encourage each other and share both struggles and moments of joy? Who will make you laugh once in a while?
None of us really know how we’re going to get over this mountain of problems. But we have many promises that can help shift our perspective. Just before the facing the mountain of pain and fear encountered in the crucifixion, Jesus comforted His disciples:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB).
Yes, we are in a world facing drastic problems and the climb seems to be a long one. But when we put our trust in Jesus, He provides a rope of security that we can cling to even when our feet are slipping. Hold fast, and look forward to seeing the big picture of how God can use this for our growth and His glory.