You know, something I learned when I ran my first marathon……..
Okay, so I’ve never run a marathon, and I don’t plan to. I hate running. But I do live in one of the awesomest places in the world to hike, and so I actually do that quite a bit. As the summer is coming to a close in Summit County, Colorado, I have the satisfaction of knowing that a few weeks ago I summited my ninth 14er.
A 14er is a mountain that stands over 14,000 feet tall, and we are blessed to have 53 of these beauties in Colorado. Each mountain is different—the approach, the ascent and descent, the terrain, whether the path is against another mountain or an exposed ridge, etc.
Each one is breathtaking (literally) and when you get to the top, no matter where it is you can see so far and breathe so clearly that it even seems worth getting up at 4:00 am. Truly, I cannot adequately describe the feeling of accomplishment as you gaze back on the path you just slowly plodded up, eating a ham and cheese sandwich that may as well be lobster and steak, it tastes so good to you at that moment.
But here’s the reality: it’s stinking hard. There’s a reason that people—well, normal people who are not masochists—don’t do this every day.
The air is already thin at the altitude where I live (9,500 feet above sea level), but I have to tell you, 14,000 feet is a whole other level of airless atmosphere. And then there are the ridiculous inclines, the scree and boulders, and the false summits that nearly tear your heart out when you’re tired and your legs are starting to shake and you’re realizing that you still have to get down somehow. Heaven forbid you see clouds rolling in, because believe me when I tell you that lightening is not fun above tree line.
I have adopted a certain strategy for 14ers. First, I only go with one other person, and never my husband. (We love each other, and we want to keep it that way.) This person is usually in slightly better shape than me so they can set a challenging pace, but not so much that I feel frustrated that they are waiting on me the whole time. I enjoy conversation and of course the scenery, and—here’s the key—I take short stops along the way. Never more than a minute or two, I take a breath or sit for a moment and then continue to plod along. Those short stops are all I need to catch my breath, and I’ve found that if I stop for too long, it is hard to get back into a cadence of the trek. Plodding is not really my thing—I like to sprint—but even I know that plodding is the only way I’m going to get up this thing.
One foot in front of the other, taking short breaks and getting right back onto the trail…this is how I summit 14ers.
I think this is not unlike life, and ministry in particular. We have those days when it’s just time to summit a 14er. These are those challenging seasons. Maybe the reasons are obvious: there’s a death in the family, or a vital team member leaves in a not-so-great way, or our spouse is going through depression that’s affecting everything else. Sometimes it’s not so obvious…it’s just rough, and it’s hard to put your finger on it. But it’s just hard to breathe and you’re tired and your legs are starting to shake and you know you’ve got a long way to go before it gets easier.
The good news is that there will be an end. There will be a time when you look around and say, “Wait a minute, we’re at the top? Good gravy, I thought it would never come.” You sit for a bit and look around in awe at where you’ve come from, eat your cheese sticks and trail mix, and then get ready to head back down. After all, the job isn’t done until you’re back at your car. And once you get home…..a hot bath? Maybe something fabulous on TV? And of course an understanding that you’ll never, ever do this again…until the temporary amnesia sets in (I’m convinced this is also the case with childbirth) that makes you think it wasn’t quite as hard as you thought and maybe you should start scheduling your next one for the fall.
So one nice thing about 14ers is that we don’t have to get up them every day.
But even when we do, even when that is the assignment for this season, taking short breaks can be a lifesaver. God is pretty smart, and instituted something called a Sabbath for just this reason. He knows that we regularly need short rests, to catch our breath and get our bearings and maybe take a picture. Because when we have His perspective we know that it’s not just the destination that’s amazing, it’s the journey.
When is the last time you had a regular Sabbath day, just set aside to rest and have fun and to re-energize from the last week’s craziness? Is this a discipline? Do we take it as seriously as we do faithfulness in our marriages? Because those two commands sort of made the same list.
If we are always tired, always down, always looking at the next big challenge through the eyes of someone who is just about to fall over, we will probably not be incredibly inspiring to those we are leading. But when we get those short rests we are able to look back at where we’ve come from, look around at the beauty that is life with Christ, and even look up to the challenge before us with fresh eyes, excitement, and an “Alright, let’s do this!” attitude.
So take a breather, take a Sabbath, and then jump right back in there. You’ll be amazed at how many mountains you can summit.