by Joanie Butman
While visiting my sister in Milwaukee last week, I had the privilege of accompanying my nephew and his five-year-old son, Finn, to an indoor playground called BOUNCE. Based on the name, you can imagine the plethora of inflatables available. It’s been a long time since I laughed so hard. Pure joy is balm for the soul. Too many of us forget the importance of play – and stillness. The massage chairs the owners cleverly provide for bone-weary parents and grandparents offered their own kind of soothing relief for body and soul.
In addition to the bouncy attractions, there was pinball, air hockey, laser tag and rock climbing. We did it all. I pooped out long before Finn and settled into my last activity, relaxing in the massage chair. Glorious. It was in direct sight of the rock-climbing wall. As I watched the climbers of all ages, I recognized a lot of similarities to my spiritual journey – a blundering effort with lots of starts and stops and plenty of falls and discouragement before I found a good foothold and something (or Someone) to grab onto for assistance. Until I started paying attention to ‘why’ I continued to lose my footing, I kept making the same mistakes over and over.
I thought of my attempt at the rock-climbing wall. I definitely would have chosen the easy option as I’d never done it before, but it was popular with the kids. Again, indicative of my spiritual path. However, choosing the easy path in my spiritual journey never got me any closer to where I needed to be. I don’t think I’m alone. It’s tempting to check off boxes rather than tackling the more challenging ones necessary for spiritual growth. Church on Sunday, check. Bible Study on Thursday, check. Morning devotions, check. Love my neighbor? Forgive my enemy? Reach out to the lonely, hurting and needy? Hmm. Have to work harder on those.
It took a few false starts before I could get a solid grip. I almost reached the summit, but stalled and didn’t want to hurt myself or wet my pants trying to outdo a bunch of five-year-olds. This photo sums up my first foray on a rock wall AND most of my spiritual journey – hanging on for dear life calling, “Sweet Jesus, HELP!!” I knew I just needed to let go, but sometimes that’s the scariest part of rock climbing and spirituality.
My dramatic dismount was something to behold, as I swung wide landing with a thud in a heap at the bottom of the adjacent wall with a child falling from above. Again, eerily familiar to my spiritual efforts – clumsy, often comical – saved in the nick of time by Divine intervention and/or the fellowship of other Christians, like the attendant who caught the boy just before he landed on my head.
Later that night as we were discussing the day, someone asked Finn if he rang the bell at the top of the rock wall. Dang! I didn’t know there was a bell. I would have kept going. Therein lies the importance of spiritual fellowship. We all get weary on the journey and will be tempted to give up or perhaps get paralyzed by fear. I can’t tell you the amount of times I‘ve felt spiritually ‘stalled.’ That’s when the encouragement of others helps to point towards the bell waiting to be rung – not just for myself, but to inspire others in their own efforts.
Spiritually speaking, reaching the ‘bell’ doesn’t necessarily mean forging ahead. Quite the opposite. It will always involve letting go of some sort. It could be a person, dream, job, home, health, habit, hurt or hang-up. Releasing your grip seems counterintuitive, which is exactly why it is so difficult and a stumbling block for so many. However, just as you need to release one rock to grab onto another in order to continue your ascent, there are things we all need to surrender for spiritual growth and progress.
God will ask each of us at some point to let go, trusting that He will be there to catch us. For most of us, this decision will be harder than the climb. I will leave you with a story that illustrates this point beautifully.
The story is told of a mountain climber who, desperate to conquer the Aconcagua, initiated his climb after years of preparation. But he wanted the glory to himself, therefore, he went up alone. He started climbing and it was becoming later, and later. Soon it got dark. Night fell with heaviness at a very high altitude. Visibility was zero. Everything was black. There was no moon, and the stars were covered by clouds.
As he was climbing a ridge at about 100 meters from the top, he slipped and fell. Falling rapidly, he could only see blotches of darkness that passed. He felt a terrible sensation of being sucked in by gravity. He kept falling...and in those anguishing moments, good and bad memories passed through his mind. He thought certainly he would die, but then he felt a jolt that almost tore him in half. Yes! Like any good mountain climber, he had staked himself with a long rope tied to his waist. In those moments of stillness, suspended in the air he had no other choice but to shout: "HELP ME GOD. HELP ME!"
All of a sudden, he heard a deep voice from heaven..."What do you want me to do?"
"Do you REALLY think that I can save you?"
"OF COURSE, MY GOD."
"Then cut the rope that is holding you up."
There was another moment of silence and stillness. The man just held tighter to the rope. The rescue team says that the next day they found a frozen mountain climber hanging strongly to a rope...TWO FEET OFF THE GROUND.
What is God asking you to choose to let go? Will you choose to trust Him, confident that it’s because He has something better to offer?