Mountaintop Experiences: Falling Off the Mountain
With each hesitant, unstable step my heart began pounding faster and faster. Wanting to slow its increasing merry go round pace, I stopped my progress frequently. As I looked from east to west and back to my present location I could only see silence. The stillness of my wooded surroundings swallowed up my thoughts as I battled my conscious that was barking “give up.” Occasionally, the whisper of the wind broke up the inner battle between my sanity and paralyzing fear.
“Hey, are you alright?” asked my dear old friend and hiking partner John, as he broke up the utter deafness of the moment. “If we don’t pick up our pace we won’t make it to the shelter by nightfall.”
Back in the expansive wilderness of the Appalachian Trail for the first time in a year and a half, I could hardly form a response due to my parched, cotton ball-dry lips.
“I’m not quite sure,” I hesitantly replied, just four miles into day one of a planned four day hike through the mountains of northern Georgia. “I’m getting nervous about being out here in the wilderness. I don’t think we should continue.”
“Why?” John countered. “It is a beautiful day, the temperature is perfect, and we are carrying much less weight in our backpacks this time around. It couldn’t be better.”
But it wasn’t better. For several days leading up to the hike I had conjured up fleeting thoughts of danger lurking behind every tree and beneath each rock. In my mind, our self-induced enemy was just waiting to pounce on two fairly inexperienced hikers who answered to the names Chris and John. Despite feeling a bit more savvy due to a three day hike 18 months earlier; I still couldn’t digest the notion that we had never faced any true adversity on the trail. We had never seen a bear, heard a rattlesnake, or been forced to find quick shelter from a lightning storm. Yet, here we were, two thirty something desk jockeys ambling straight up the side of Blood Mountain, one of the tallest peaks in Georgia. Even the name “Blood Mountain” wasn’t setting very well with me.
After much hesitation I agreed to continue. We had both invested several hundred dollars in this trip and I didn’t want that money to go to waste. In addition, I knew that John desired nothing less than completing our intended journey.
The higher we ascended toward the fog shrouded peak the lower my spirits fell. I became mentally consumed with comforting thoughts of sleeping in my own bed, eating lobster at a seaside café, and going for long romantic walks with my wife. But every time I lifted my head from the trail I failed to see the beauty of God’s creation all around me. All I could visually muster were angry thoughts of why there were so many trees in this forest and why did they have to be so green?
The further we trekked the more intensely negative my thoughts became. Eventually, we spotted another hiker making his way along the craggy trail toward us. About 50 years old, the slender, graying man navigated the terrain with the aid of two hiking sticks. He carried no backpack and was not carrying any water, a necessity on the Appalachian Trail.
As he approached, I blurted, “Good morning, how are you?”
“Hello,” he replied softly.
“Nice day today. Where are you headed?” I asked.
No reply. He glided past us and continued on his journey without hesitation.
Nice manners I thought. Here we are in the middle of the wilderness without any other human around for miles and the best he could do was whisper hello? I was prepared to tell him my life story including that embarrassing moment in sixth grade when I ripped the seat of my pants during recess in front of a group of pretty girls including Janet Norsworthy, a classmate I secretly fancied. All he could muster was a soft hello? What kind of a man is he I hypothesized?
That was it, I had had enough. I was ready to toss my backpack over the edge of the next available cliff. With each ensuing step my fear and anxiety became more desperate and intense.
Meanwhile, John was seemingly oblivious to my angst. He trudged along admiring the wildflowers that grew abundantly along the edges of the trail. Occasionally, he would stop, dig his camera out of his backpack and snap a picture of these glorious blossoms.
The further we hiked onward into the wilderness the further I journeyed toward complete panic. Finally, as we rounded a bend and saw the steepest portion of the trail we had encountered yet looming above us like a scene from “Lord of the Rings”, I broke down.
“I just can’t do this,” I snorted. “I feel like I am failing you but I just can’t continue with this hike. I am so sorry. I didn’t intend to drag you out here into these woods to just turn around and go back.”
“You are not failing me but I want to know why you feel this way,” John anxiously responded.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I am fine with hiking out here during the day. I think it is the idea of being in the wilderness at night and not knowing what is out there around me. I guess it is fear of the unknown, not knowing what could happen to me.”
“Kind of like life,” said John.
Kind of like life. How right he was. In my selfish haste I just expected God to automatically assuage my fears. Sort of like the cruise control kicking in on an automobile. But I was missing one rather large component of the cruise control function. It just doesn’t automatically sense it is the right time to step in and function. It has to be asked. In other words, when we want the cruise control to work we must first push a button to activate it.
As Christians, the peace of God does not produce an absence of conflict, but instead the ability to cope with it. But you must allow God to give you the strength to do it. I am a prime example of trying to navigate through life on my terms. As hard as I try to hand the reins over to God and let Him lead me, there is often a part of me that thinks (usually subconsciously) I can handle my fears and desires on my own. That is not how our relationship with Him should work.
In John 14:27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The burdens of life’s pressures will continue every day. Sometimes our daily lives feel like they are too much for us to bare. But they aren’t too much as long as we rely on our heavenly Father.
This verse eloquently illustrates that the end result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is deep and lasting peace. Have you ever actively sought chaos for your life? I hope not.
I believe deep and lasting peace is something that every one seeks. However, do not be confused. The type of peace Jesus mentions in this passage is not to be confused with worldly peace (defined as the absence of conflict). The peace that the apostle John writes about is not confident assurance in any circumstance but the absence of needing to fear the presence or the future.
Whatever the circumstance God wants us to experience His peace. We need to always put our trust in Him regardless of the outcome. It is important to remember that we should always seek to change those things we are able to change, accept what we have no power to change, and let God determine the final result.
I believe that this entire hiking trip was nothing more than an opportunity for God to show me this all-important concept. Perhaps there is a similar circumstance in your life where God is reaching out to you but you are desperately trying to navigate the stormy seas on your own.
Based on a mountain top experience I would recommend letting go and start letting God.
Read Part One, Mountaintop Experiences: Gimme Shelter
Read Part Two, Mountaintop Experiences: Hair Gel and Heavy Burdens
Read Part Three, Mountaintop Experiences: Romancing the Bible
Read Part Four, Mountaintop Experiences: A Realization at Personality Gap