The Arduous Climb

"The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds' feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! For the Chief Musician; with my stringed instruments." Habakkuk 3:19 (Amplified Bible)

It was our custom to eat breakfast and lunch together as a family in Congo during our first four-year term as missionaries. On one of these mornings, over our usual breakfast of pancakes and fried canned ham, my dad asked us three older kids if we wanted to climb East Hill with him.
Our bush mission station of Nkara-Ewa was surrounded by hills in the shape of a horseshoe. All of us were very excited about the adventure awaiting us. The hill was so green and didn't look at all like it would be difficult to climb. My curiosity needed to be satisfied about what was on the other side of the hill that I looked at everyday from our upstairs' porch. We wanted to go right then at 8:00 a.m., but Dad said that we needed to wait until after the sun's heat became less intense later that afternoon.

We left the breakfast table and went to do our school lessons for the rest of the morning. When we saw Dad again at lunchtime, we asked him what was on the other side of the hill. He smiled and said that we would have to wait and see. To pass the four hours until our hike up the hill, Nicol, Todd, and I decided to spend the afternoon in the twenty-acre lake at the bottom of the small hill on which our house rested.

Four o'clock finally came. We each had a small container of water for the trip. Because the equator runs right through Congo, we had just about an hour and a half before the sun set and the snakes came out. We would have to hurry as quickly as we could to get to the other side and back home before dark.

We approached the bottom of the hill. From our dining room windows, the hill had appeared as though I could have run right to the top with no problem. Now I could see that this was not going to be as easy of a climb as I had assumed it would be. I didn't account for the sticks and rocks that were poking out of the ground. The path that others before me had taken was small and cramped. It didn't go straight up the hill, but meandered up the incline in a sort of diagonal fashion. Now I could see why. It would be much too difficult to climb if the path went straight from the bottom of the hill to its summit. There were patches of itchy, dry, and very slippery grass on either side of the path. If I made a wrong step, I could easily fall and cut myself on the broken bracken that lined the path on either side.

But with the enthusiasm of the child that I was, I overlooked all this and began the ascent. The sun, which was far over into the western sky, was still unbelievably fierce in its intensity. Droplets of sweat began dripping off the ends of my bangs and into my eyes, making them sting. This isn't as fun as it looks! I thought to myself after the first five minutes of climbing. I looked back behind to see how far we had come. Not far at all! I started getting discouraged at the thought that there was still so much ground to cover to even get halfway up the hill.

"Daddy, how much longer?" I asked.

"Oh, we've just gotten started. You're not giving up already, are you?" he replied.

"Oh no, Daddy, I just wanted to know." I couldn't let Nicol and Todd know how much I wanted to get off that hill and go home.

I had been so excited to start this journey. In fact, I had had a hard time waiting all afternoon. Although I had asked my father if we could start the climb much earlier, he had said to wait. Now I couldn't imagine how miserable I would have been if I had started out before he said it was time to go.

I was lost in my thoughts and not paying attention to the path. I stepped on a patch of dry grass and slipped down off the side of the path. I gashed my knee in the process and looked down to see my bloody knee covered with dirt and grass. My white culottes were covered with grime (I know, white was not the greatest idea to wear!). I was a mess. I sat there and started to bawl, wondering why I had ever agreed to come on this climb.

Oh, ladies, has your heavenly Father got you climbing up the hill that used to look so inviting from a distance? If you are using your spiritual gifts and impacting others for Christ, I can guarantee you have met with a slip off the path. If you are in full-time ministry, the excitement you felt when you first heard your Abba's call on your life can seem so distant and faint at times. Didn't you and I long to be mommies? Then why is it so hard to raise children that love Jesus? Is this what serving Jesus looks like? Why doesn't He just take us to the summit? Why does He make us climb, becoming sweaty and having bloody knees in the process? Why do we have to wrestle with disappointment in ourselves and in others? Why does every victory have to be so hard-earned?

I have thought of that climb up East Hill that I took as an eleven-year-old girl so many times this week. I have heard the call of God on my life. I have been willing to go. In fact, I have been impatient in the wait as it has seemed to be an interminable amount of time before my life of ministry has started. But I know what would happen if I was instantly taken to the mountaintop. I would think it was all about me and my abilities. I wouldn't know of the danger of the slippery, itchy grass of pride that could send me hurtling headlong off the summit. I would be ignorant of the broken, sharp sticks that would rip me open on the way down the mountain. Yes, the climb is slow, even dangerous at times. I have taken my eyes off the path and found myself sitting in the dirt off the path.

"Jesus, are we almost there yet?" I have asked so many times.

"Shawn, we've just gotten started. You're not giving up already, are you? I'm here. In fact, I have gone before you on the path, as meandering and diagonal as it seems. I will never lead you astray. But you must not lose your focus on Me."

I'll admit it: Sometimes staying in the dirt and wallowing seems more appealing than reaching out for His hand to help pick me up and set my feet on the path again. This is His promise to me that causes me to reach for His help:

"For though a righteous [wo]man falls seven times, [s]he rises again..." Proverbs 24:16

The process of the journey, including the falls, is what changes me into someone more like my Jesus. It is not the destination or arrival on the summit. Without the lessons on the way, the joy at the top would be shallow and unappreciated and too easily squandered by me.

I did get to the top of East Hill that day. The view of our mission station was incredible from the summit. I could see all that was familiar in a new way, a way that I appreciated so much more because of the hard climb to get there. I forgot my bloody knee and dirty clothes as I enjoyed what perseverance had rewarded me with. O, my dear sisters, don't you know that that is what heaven will be like? We will forget the wounds, the sweat, the tears, the discouragement when we hear those words our Abba will one day say over us:

"'...Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'" Matthew 25:21 (NIV)

Grab hold of His hand again and let's climb!

Jesus, why do I want to continue to do this life with you, this crucified life? Because I want to make you happy. The thought that my actions could cause happiness, let alone any emotion, in the Creator of heaven and earth is one I can hardly take in. But the thought of Your pleasure in me sustains me. It helps me to reach for Your hand once again, wipe my teary eyes, and go on with You.