When the Path is Steep, You Are Not Alone

In the economy of my life, words are the currency.

I am fascinated by language, find greatest internal clarity when I write, and am bolstered by encouraging words from others.

Yet it is my eyes that direct my words.

The eye is the lamp of the body. - Matthew 6:22

I am such a visual person that I can not think clearly when there is clutter around me (and if you know me well you now understand why I never think clearly!) My prayer life is filled with images.

I take visual snapshots - I still remember the first time I did this, a tender moment with my two dearest friends from college when I was about 20 years old. We lay on a futon on the floor talking about deep and precious things, and their gentle faces and tousled hair all mixed together was so beautiful I yearned to freeze the image forever. So I took a picture with my mind. I can see it still.

When I write, I am often simply describing what I see. Ideas have form and color and light in my mind. Analogies and allegories are commonplace. I don’t make this happen. It happens to me.

So perhaps you will understand when I tell you that the past four months, maybe longer, yes longer, I have been on an arduous trek through a most difficult mountain range. I have crossed parched deserts, dragging my feet in deep sand. Climbed and climbed and climbed steep summits. I have come out unexpectedly into glorious meadows filled with the most beautiful wildflowers, and been served by angels. I have rested by deep and clear lakes. My feet have been tangled in dark thorny weeds, and I have fallen and bled again and again.

I have been on a journey and I am bone weary.

In non-allegorical life? Financial stress, uncertainty, new businesses, deep relational challenges, a gloriously beautiful trip to China with my father, unidentified health problems, failure, success, failure and failure again. 

There are days when I feel like I am staring into the face of the lion that wants to devour me. Because I am. When life gets rough, when things become uncertain, don’t we begin to wonder? To doubt a little?… Did I have this all wrong? If I had done it all the world's way, would things be different?

Those are the waverings the enemy watches for. The opportunity he hopes to exploit.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. - 1 Peter 5:8

Hurts and fears and missteps pile up, and without solid ground to stand on, even the most faithful find it hard to stand firm. How wary we sons and daughters must be of stepping onto shifting sands! Only the Rock of our salvation gives true footing.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. 
- Psalm 62:5-6

We all come to crossroads in our lives. Indeed, most of us encounter such intersections more than once as we walk the path we have been given. Which way do I go? Do I go the way that seems easy, the wide road that everyone would tell me to follow? Or do I take this hard dirt path that my heart and His Word say to walk?

I always pray to take the Lord's way, but sometimes it is so painful. The way of service and love is the way of hard work. Not just hard work with my hands, but the hard work of allowing God to transform my heart and mind.

It is not in our nature to give and give. It is not in our nature to put others before ourselves. When people argue against Christianity I wonder if they understand what Jesus said and how He lived. Who would suggest that the best way to chart the course of your life is by giving everything up for others? This is not an idea formed in a human mind. Jesus’ way is completely upside down from the way we think the world should run. The first shall be last? It defies human logic! 

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16a

This year my family has chosen to walk differently. To take a leap into the unknown in many ways and try something that we know God has been calling us to. I wouldn’t change a thing. God’s plans are always the best plans. But they don’t always look the way we expect. Our leap did not produce glorious financial results, but it has borne the eternal fruit of deepened love and family ties upon which no price can be set. We have made difficult sacrifices in the name of relationships. We have faced painful challenges and done all we could to walk uprightly. We have wept. It has been a season of much feeling. 

As we have struggled, we have not been alone. We have been blessed with tangible assistance, real help with real needs. And the hands that have helped meet our physical needs have also been hands that have folded in prayer for us, hands that have lifted ours when we could not lift our own. (Exodus 17:11-12)

Gratitude is a paltry word to describe the swell of emotions just writing this brings. 

Two verse snippets have been my companions:

Hope does not disappoint
- Romans 5:5a

Love never fails
- 1 Corinthians 13:8a

There have been times when it has only been the dogged choice to hold onto and believe those verses that has kept me from drowning.

Sometimes it seems like hope is being disappointed and love is failing.

But it is all about perspective. When I train the microscope of my attention on a string of seeming losses and failures, there is nothing allowed in the picture but despair. Yet when I set the microscope down, take a deep breath, and stand back... stand way way back… I begin to allow an eternal perspective to gently filter into view.

I see people who are growing, sin that is being dealt with, something lasting and beautiful that is being built. 

The road is exhausting. The ups and the downs seem like they want to kill me some days. I long for the security of my warm soft bed… a place sometimes I would prefer to stay all day.

This is real life.

And Jesus is right in the middle of my real life. Because of His grace I can say, “I have failed” and not feel condemned. Because of His forgiveness, I can say to those I have wronged, “Please forgive me” and I will be freed from the burden of guilt.

I am still walking this hard road. It has real impact on my daily life and on my health and on my work. I am a writer who is struggling to write, and that is not a fun place for a writer to be. But because I am walking this road with the lover of my soul, I will survive the agonies and the exhilarations. And astonishingly, He will use them both to make me more like Himself. What an impossibly loving Lord He is.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” - Isaiah 41:13

The road will level out, I know it will. It always does. And in these steep parts when I stumble, His strong hand holds me firm. I am still gasping for breath some days and my muscles tremble from the effort, but I am not alone.

Is your journey steep today? Hold tight to His holy hand. Take heart. There is purpose in your pain. And who knows? This might be just around the next bend...

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

- Psalm 23:2-3a

This song from Christa Wells kept playing in my head as I wrote this post...

I’ve been climbing my whole life
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain,
at the bottom of the mountain 
Rising up from my feet
in the daylight
rising up into the clouds and out of my sight
is the height of that mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Lord, these shoes are gonna need some help
so we can make it to the top of the mountain 
to the top of your mountain
Many feet have gone before us
with a habit of faith and courage
they’ll meet us at the road’s end

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Yes, yes I think I will
Oh Yes I know we will
Yes yes I know we will
Oh yeah, I know we will

I’ve been climbing my whole life 
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain
at the bottom of the mountain
All along this road
when it feels so
far to the top, you say, just hold on to the mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day
Well my soul (oh, my soul) is gonna get there one day

(press play below to hear the song)

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