Like a very typical 40-year old, I felt the need to find a new hobby. It had to be challenging physically and emotionally. It was critical that I didn’t have to spend a fortune on equipment, so that ruled out sports cars. And whatever I would choose, I wanted to be able to do it with my kids. By the time I turn 50, they will both be in adulthood, and so I wanted to make these next ten years really count with them.
So, after much deliberation, discernment and then ultimately asking my wife what I should do, it was determined that I would learn to climb! Alongside the benefits of quality time with my children, my wife having hours of quiet time while we are at the climbing gym, and the obvious fun that we have making our way up walls, the discipline of climbing has been teaching me a lot about following Jesus.
It involves making a choice to struggle. With every route, progress demands new challenges. My fingers hurt, my arms ache, and my legs shake. I can choose to quit at any point, but I am focused on the prize. I’m determined to complete the problem or to finish the route. Following Jesus in a life of faith involves intentional choices away from comfort. No two ways about it.
We also can’t do it alone. I can’t climb alone. Even Alex Honnald (Free Solo on El Cap) had Tommy Caldwell helping him prepare and get ready for the climb. While climbing is deeply personal, it leads to incredible friendships and trust and appreciation of fellow climbers. This week I finally got some climbing partners. They are already pushing my climbing to the next level – giving me beta on the route, encouraging me to push through the pain, shouting at me, “Don’t quit!”
Find some fellow faith pilgrims to journey with and challenge you.
But, while following Jesus is better together, at the end of the day, I need to own it personally. No excuses, no passing the buck, no blame game. I have to take responsibility for my pursuit of Christ. Programs and people will only get me so far. Do I have, in the deepest part of my being, a desire to do this? To make this climb, to follow this Saviour? Determination and grit can’t be purchased, they can’t be passed on. They are things that need to be found deep within the caverns of our soul.
The rewards of the faith life are great: Ultimately, the peace, presence and person of Jesus, forever. For now, in this life- the promises of a good God, the purpose of the Good News, and the power of the Holy Spirit, each helping us make sense of the 17,000- 30,000 breaths a day that we call living.
The rewards I have experienced learning to climb include strength, fortitude, resilience, growth, focus and struggle. They don’t sound like rewards, but the reality is, living outside of my comfort zone is transforming me. This is how the faith life seems to work too. This is what I call the reality of climbing.
There is always a tougher climb, there is always a better climber, there is always a better move, a stronger grip, a new route. I think the thing I love most about learning to climb is that climbing is an unfinished story. It’s hard to believe, but one day there will be better climbers than Alex Honald, Adam Ondra and Margo Hayes. There will be more exciting stories than Free Solo, the Dawn Wall and Meru.
The life of faith that pleases God is an acceptance to an invitation – an invitation to participate in the greatest story ever written. One that is not over yet. To join God in that story, we have to choose the death of comfort and the pursuit of trust and obedience.
I long for you to fix your thoughts on things eternal rather than temporary, to see beyond visible things to the invisible, to look ahead to your permanent homeland. Separate yourself from the values of those who love this world. Resolve to pursue a close relationship with God. It isn’t too late. Why delay? Now is the time to change your thinking.
Athletes suffer bruising pain for a fading trophy. Your goal should be an imperishable crown that will sparkle throughout eternity. Pursue it. Expect to go through fire and flood before reaching the place of refreshment. There is no other way. You must go this way. Your fragile body will get tired. Count on God to give you the strength to do hard things.
Though you would like to snap your fingers to exchange misery for happiness, you lost that privilege in the Garden of Eden. Your tendency to give in to what you don’t want to do devastates you. So, you ask for forgiveness, then turn around and do the same thing again. The next time it’s worse. One moment, you are determined to be more careful; an hour later, you have forgotten your resolution.
No one fully knows your heart but God. Not even you. His grace will never leave you stranded. So, take hold of his hand. He will lift you up and make you stronger than ever.
à Kempis, Thomas. The Imitation of Christ: The Beatitudes Edition. Arrangement and update by Edythe Draper. Used with permission by the author.