Do you ever feel like you are climbing a long, steep route with no end of the trail in sight? Do you find your former routes for living out your desire and joy now elusive?
I sure do.
I don't know about you, but there have been moments in the past year that have certainly reminded me of earlier seasons when life felt like a long, steep slog over rocky terrain. Emotionally testing. Spiritually perplexing. Creatively challenging.
These are my Mount Whitney moments.
A number of years ago, I climbed Mount Whitney with my brother, Neil. At 14,500 feet, Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48. The route is clear and well-traveled, but the ascent is quite demanding. A twenty-two mile round trip.
This was my second attempt. The previous year, I had attempted the peak with a few friends by backpacking the route and spending an uncomfortable night at the 11,500 trail camp. After climbing the grueling 99 switchbacks the next day, black clouds and threatening thunderstorms prevented me from making the summit.
When I returned with Neil the next year, we decided to ditch backpacking by making an up and down, one-day trip. We rose early at 4 a.m. and began our ascent with headlamps. Thus began a very long day, hitting the 99 switchbacks again and finally summiting around noon. Exhausted, but grateful, we arrived back at the car by 5 p.m.
Our desire was reaching the peak. Our joy was accomplishing the climb as brothers.
The route was clear, but hard. No thunderstorms, rain or lightning strikes.
If only the route of following God and the dreams He places in our hearts would be so easy...
Can I be honest? Though I have much to be grateful in my life, I often do find the route to my true desires and joy often elusive.
The life of an artist (or anyone for that matter) is simply not a clearly marked path that says, "Start here" and "Finish here," as if there were a singlular formula for art, creativity and a life of faith?
There are failures. Messy middles. Enigmas wrapped in swirling paradoxical clouds.
Days when the route is surrounded by swirling clouds and fog.
The route to desire and joy is often bewildering.
In a life of art and faith, perhaps bewilderment — the idea of being out in the wild — is exactly the point?
Bewilderment — being out in the wild — is right where you and I should be.
Long, steep climbs aren't bad. They're just hard.
If we take a moment to pause and pray, steep climbs can help orient us where we are.
Oh yes, I'm out in the wild. This is where I am. This is where I have chosen to be.
The 99 switchbacks ARE NOT supposed to be easy. I'm heading towards the peak.
If we stay with our desire, the joy will come.
Staying on route, as Eugene Peterson famously wrote, "A long obedience in the same direction," is the daily challenge of discipleship.
What a great relief to realize and rediscover we are not alone on the trail.
"I am the way, the truth and the life."
The words of Jesus and his invitation for us to walk with him remind me that the route is not a hard-scrabble trail filled with rocks, but a Person who invites me into daily relationship with him. Our deepest desires and joy are found in him.
So, as you can imagine, on a day last week when I felt like I'd lost my way on a route swirling with whisps of fog and obscurity, I took great encouragement in these words from Martin Luther. I've been re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and oh my, what a cup of water he handed me.
Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from his father and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to my knowledge, and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey's end. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man, no living creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple. If you do that, there is the acceptable time and there your master is come.
From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Page 103).
Bewilderment is the true comprehension.
Like Abraham heading into the unknown, it is the route to true desire and joy.
I'd love your thoughts and comments. What ideas resonated with you and your experience? Drop me a note below.