I’ve never chosen to climb a mountain. Years ago I got to the top of a couple of Lakeland fells, Catbells and The Old Man of Coniston being the highest I can recall, but that was only on school camps, and teachers made me do it. Mountaineering, the kind that requires ropes and special footwear and precipices from which to dangle, does make sporadic appearances in my life, but always in the form of nightmares: I am always alone, and I am always stuck (paralysed with fear to be accurate) on some insurmountable rock face.
Sometimes, real life can feel scarily like one of my mountain nightmares, even though, compared to the rock faces in others’ lives, my mountains aren’t really that high. (If I’m totally honest, trying to put myself in someone else’s far more painful mountain-climbing shoes often only results in more intense feelings of the guilt caused by wishing mine fit more comfortably, rather than being grateful I can still feel my toes.) I have friends who are at this very moment facing circumstances we all fear, and yet today I still managed to find my own lesser fears and frustrations almost overwhelming. As I make it my habit to do, though I’m more likely not to when feeling on top of the world, I took some time out to read the bible and to pray, and, as I prayed, I remembered a little book I first read in my teens, an allegorical tale about a girl named Much-Afraid and her overbearing, controlling relatives, the Fearings. Not having taken that particular book down from the shelf for decades, I opened it and read the following:
“The mountains are so steep and dangerous, I have been told that only hinds and deer can move on them safely … What is the use of even thinking of going to the High Places, I could never reach them, for the least little thing is enough to turn me back.”
Hmmm, thought I. There’s a clue in the main character’s name (Much-Afraid, you’ll recall) that correlates rather closely with her thinking. Am I afraid of climbing the mountain that looms in front of me? Of course I am: that’s why all I felt like doing today was to stand still and tremble. (It doesn’t matter what my current mountain is, just that earlier today it looked impossibly high.) I then read these verses from Habakkuk chapter 3:
“Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food.
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation,
God the Lord, is my strength,
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places.”
What a transforming word ‘yet’ can be; it certainly transformed my perspective today. The link below leads to an interview with the mountaineer, Chris Bonnington, who celebrated his eightieth birthday in the summer. In the video clip he talks about the rock he climbed to celebrate (what’s wrong with a cake and bottle of bubbly? I wonder), and goes on to say that he will make every single day of his eighties count. He uses the phrase: “Don’t give up”. Perhaps that’s his ‘yet’. If you’re feeling daunted by the mountains facing you, what will your ‘yet’ be?