God Seems Most Present As We Are Climbing Life’s Mountains Alone
The following article first appeared on The Dallas Morning News on November 14, 2021.
Every winter while living in Australia, my husband and I enjoyed going to a ministers’ family camp in the magnificent Grampian Mountains with our two children.
Afternoons were free, and I usually went hiking with friends during that time. One year, when my friends were ready to hit the trail, I wasn’t feeling well, so I told my them to go ahead without me. Afterward though, I regretted my decision, and I decided to go for a little walk by myself. I found myself walking toward the closest mountain, one I had climbed several times in past years with others.
My plan was to go just a short way up, enjoy the view, and then return to my room to rest. I realized it was a little risky to go hiking alone, especially since I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. This was before most people had cell phones. But I wasn’t planning to go very far.
As I approached the base of the mountain, I came across a family of kangaroos lounging alongside the path. When the tall, very threatening-looking adult male saw me, he stood up on his hind legs with his ears standing straight up and stared intently at me. He was terrifying, but I didn’t know another way to get to the mountain trail, so I kept walking—gingerly and gently— while trying to look unobtrusive. I prayed for protection as I essentially tiptoed past this family of marsupials. Thankfully, after a moment, the alpha male seemed to realize I was not a threat and I continued along my way.
I was surprised there were no other people on the trail going up the mountain, but that only increased my sense of adventure. My temporary separation from the world with all its problems freed me to exuberantly enjoy Jesus’ presence. Instead of tiring as I climbed, I found myself becoming increasingly energized. The higher I climbed, the more spectacular the views became—and the harder it was for me to turn around and go back.
When I neared the summit, I hesitated because the trail was getting steeper and rougher. Yet I was keenly aware of Jesus’ presence with me, and I felt safe. The very tiptop of the mountain was sheer rock—too treacherous for me to attempt standing on the pinnacle. Very carefully, I climbed just far enough to get my head over the uppermost rocks, feeling amazed and thankful that I had made it to the top. Gazing at the glorious views all around me, I took time to soak in the beauty before carefully backing down from my precarious position.
Soon, I found that it was getting late and that daylight was fading, so I picked up my pace to make it down the rest of the trail and back to the camp before the sun set. A little while later, as I walked into the dining hall, I still felt inwardly aglow. I was a little late for dinner, and I needed to find my family; yet as soon as I saw my hiking friends seated together, I couldn’t wait to tell them how I’d spent my afternoon.
They looked at me quizzically when I began my account with, “This afternoon I climbed a mountain by mistake.”
Sometimes, we find ourselves climbing other sorts of “mountains” we never intended to climb – mountains of physical illness or financial insecurity. Mountains of discouragement, loss, and grief.
Perhaps even today, you feel alone and on treacherous terrain, with no other option than to wearily place one foot in front of the other.
I have climbed these sorts of “mountains” too. I have struggled with my health, and worried about my children. I have faced overwhelming challenges in my work and ministry. I know what it is like to find myself on a journey I never intended to take, and one for which there is no end in sight.
On days like these, when I have found myself weathering the impossible, joy has, at times, seemed like a distant memory.
The good news is that when we find ourselves in seasons when all comfort and security has been stripped away, we are uniquely freed to enjoy the nearness of God’s presence.
God has called us to “walk by faith – not by sight.” This doesn’t mean closing our eyes to the very real challenges along our path, it means trusting Jesus to faithfully care for us, and lovingly lead us, no matter what comes our way. When we turn our hearts to Jesus in prayer, trusting that He knows what lies ahead when we don’t, we find ourselves filled with peace and joy in His presence.
One of my favorite verses about prayer is: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).” There is so much content packed into this one short verse: joy, hope, patience in suffering, and perseverance in prayer. All of these themes relate richly to living in this broken world.
When the mountain is steep, the path treacherous, and the way long, prayer is the key to weathering the impossible, and rediscovering joy. Then, with the psalmist, we can lift our voices in praise to our faithful God and proclaim, “You show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11).”