I remember starting our journey on the mission field and feeling like I was taking my first steps onto a big, tall mountain. The adventure was thrilling and the climb surely seemed possible. God felt so close, like He was breathing there right beside me. So many days He still does, and the adventure is still thrilling.
But sometimes the climbing is rough, and we reach places that we just can’t pass. Things like the death of a parent, a cancer diagnosis, or a tragic accident. They knock the breath out of us and bring us to our knees.
Or maybe the slow deaths are the ones that leave us gasping for breath along the trail. The personality conflicts and unmet expectations, the children that don’t fit in, the ministry burnout and the endless language learning.
The weight of the ministry pushes down hard like two hands pressing on our back. Somehow our training didn’t prepare us for how our hearts would break for these people and for this place.
The mountain climb no longer seems possible.
A few weeks ago our family went hiking on the Santa Ana volcano here in El Salvador. Our children were giddy as we started the climb through cool woods. They raced up and down around us on the trail running and playing. They laughed and shouted and it was such an adventure.
The path began to wind in and out and around trees and rocks. Our son stumbled, surprised onto the path. His knees were dirty and he got up but he was no longer running and giddy.
We walked up and up and the sun beat down hard and hot through the trees. Dust swirled around our feet and the stones got bigger. Back and forth and up and down and we began to sweat. Our footsteps were light in the cool of the trees, but much heavier out in the sun.
My husband led us higher and higher on the mountain. Soon lava rocks and boulders made it hard to see what was just ahead. We had to be cautious, watch our step and shade our eyes from the sun. Our son fell behind.
“Daddy? Daddy!” A small voice echoed through the trees and rocks. “Daddy? Where are you? I think I hear you, but I can’t see you!”
The answer came, “Hey buddy, I’m right here. Stay on the path and follow my voice. Can you hear me?”
“Yes Daddy, just barely. “ My brave boy soldiered on and what started as fear, soon became a game. Around each bend he would call out again, “Daddy? Daddy? Where are you?”
“Here I am, keep climbing…can you hear me?”
“Yes Daddy, just barely.”
On and on it went up the mountain over the rocks and through the dust. My boy kept climbing following his daddy’s voice, even though he could barely hear it. But as long as he heard his dad, he knew his way.
But soon a barely-there voice just wasn’t enough. My son grew tired, he tripped and fell. But this time he didn’t want to get up, the trail was hard. The sun was hot, and the dust was thick.
So his Daddy stopped and picked him up and held his hand and together they climbed the hardest parts. The parts that were stony ashes left years ago by a volcanic explosion. The parts that were last steps through a barren wasteland where nothing grew, and sulfur still swirled. The ashes made the rocks treacherous but my son was renewed and yearned more and more for the summit.
Together they reached it, and it was worth the struggle and uncertainty along the way. They saw a turquoise lake and green fields. Distant mountains and blue skies opened up before them. It was beautiful.
So many days I feel just like my son. I am on a trail that twists and winds and sometimes it is cool and lovely, and sometimes it feels like I am just lost and dusty. I call out in a feeble voice.
“Father…Father, where are you?”
It’s almost like I hear His voice, like it’s barely there. It is just loud enough to keep my foot on the path, and to show me the way. But I trip and fall, and barely miss crevices and drop-offs.
There are moments that I reach the wastelands of my journey. It is dark and gray and tears choke out the joy and I am scrambling just to gain my footing, just to take a step. The top of that mountain looks so far away.
But God is there too and He grabs my hand and He reminds me that the wasteland is not forever. This scrambling, this striving, this loss is not forever. There is something coming. There is something to hope for, and it is a world with no teenagers forced into prostitution, no addictions, no cruelty, no stillborn babies, no devastating disease, no children abused, no poverty, no war, no broken hearts, and no more death.
One day the struggle will be worth it, and the only thing that will matter is that I followed His voice and took His hand. We will climb together, my Father and I, and He will show me the world above the wasteland where all is new, and all is whole, and it will be beautiful.
That day is coming and I hope and yearn for that summit. But for today there is work to be done, so I will stay the course and follow His voice even when I can just barely hear it.
What about you? What makes the "climb" hard? What has brought encouragement to you?