Mountain goats just below the summit of Byers Peak, Grand County, Colorado. 2013.
As you may have noticed from previous comments and photos, I have lately become something of an amateur mountain climber. I had an opportunity to visit Colorado several years ago with a group of friends. We hiked up the Chicago Lakes Trail, summitted Mt. Evans as well as the adjacent Mt. Spaulding, and later climbed to the top of Bierstadt. I fell in love with the amazing vistas, the challenge of the climb, and the sheer joy of standing on the rocky crest of one of these behemoths. Since that trip, I have had the opportunity to climb several other peaks. Every time I am able to go climbing, I fall in love with the challenge of the summit all over again.
I am perpetually amazed at the incredible views, the pristine waterfalls, the elk, mule deer, and mountain goats. I am even fascinated by the marmots that warm themselves on flat rocks in the afternoon sun! But there is one thing that I always look forward to on the way up the mountain. One thing that I anticipate, one thing that calls me back to the wilderness.
It is the wall.
Climbing a mountain is a study in pushing your own physiology to the limit. Oxygen is more scarce high altitudes. (especially for a flatlander!) Respiration rates accelerate, legs turn to jello, and muscles burn. Because of this physical stress, I have never attempted a summit without at some point hitting the wall. The wall is not a physical structure or formation of rock. Rather, the wall exists entirely in my mind.
It is that point at which my body concludes that it can go no farther. Chest heaving, heart pounding, legs tingling, and everything is hurting. The wall is a point of exhaustion. The wall is a point of surrender. The wall is a stop sign that reminds me that this mountain is too big, and I am too small to think of summiting it. The wall tells me that I have not trained hard enough, that I am not prepared. The wall insists that I am too fat, too old, too weak, too inexperienced. The wall pronounces each step insignificant, and the trail unending. The wall is the place where I must submit to the altitude, to my weariness, to the pain.
The wall is why I love the mountains, why I keep returning to them. The wall is why I eagerly set out up the flanks of these imposing monsters over and over again. I know that somewhere above the treeline, around a craggy bend in the trail it waits for me. I love the wall because I have learned that the wall is a lie. Yes, it is true that my body is exhausted. Perhaps I must slow my gait for lack of oxygen. And I always wish to be 30 pounds thinner as I push up the trail. But I often discover that the wall is a mirage; a false stop sign. I have learned that I can walk right through the wall. And pushing through the wall is a glorious thing.
It seems I always arrive at a summit huffing and puffing like a steam engine on a steep grade. My muscles are numb and my feet are sore. But there is nothing sweeter than flopping down like a marmot on a warm rock, basking in the sun on top of the world. At the peak there is a raw beauty that cannot be seen or felt from lower places.
You and I face this same challenge every day. In relationships, in our daily endeavors, in our personal struggles we encounter the wall. We are tempted to yield, to give up. We become convinced that surrender is the only sane option. I have learned that some of these stop signs that we encounter in life are not really stop signs at all. And many of us never accomplish our goal because we lack the determination to push through these impossible places.
What walls are you facing today? Which of those walls are mirages? Ask Jesus to help you see. There is great wisdom in discerning between the false stop signs and real ones.
And there is a summit waiting on the other side of the mirage.