The frigid air blustered off the lake, through the tops of the pines, and into the small window of my tent, as I laid there awake—impatiently anticipating the break of dawn.
I never sleep well on the trail. I’m always exhausted, but the cold temperatures, the soreness within my body, and the orchestra of snoring that explodes from my fellow comrades prevents the Sandman from entering my domain. I just lay there…praying for sleep. Eventually, when the sleep refrains, I admit defeat and just pray for daylight.
That was the situation this past Friday morning. We had a huge trek looming in the near future. We were going to hike three miles down to the South Fork Valley, three miles along the South Fork to the base of the ascent, and then three miles to the summit of Tuolumne Peak…up 2500 vertical feet. I was excited and ready, but I worried about my aptitude for this climb. I didn’t sleep much…if any at all, and a cold virus had taken over my body Wednesday morning and was now escalating. Cold sores were invading my face and my sinus pressure was surmounting. The negative external factors were steadily increasing, causing fear and worry.
As we began the three-mile descent into the valley, I found myself staring at the trail in front of me rather than looking up and around at God’s spectacular enveloping creation. When I looked at the trail, my focus was limited to those elements within my vicinity…within my grasp. My thoughts turned inward…I dwelled on my sickness, my pains, my fatigue, and my limitations. The longer I stared at the trail, the more discouraged I became, bitterness and frustration swelled, and the goal of reaching the summit seemed far-fetched and insurmountable.
Eventually, we reached a clearing that looked out into the vast wilderness. We could see for miles. On display before us was one of God’s greatest masterpieces—granite sculpted by God’s glacial chisel. It was breathtaking. To the southeast, we could see our destination—Tuolumne Peak. My thoughts of desperation suddenly disappeared. I had a purpose…a reason to do the things I was about to do. As I continued on, I came to a realization: whenever I would gaze down toward the earth, my efforts became futile; whenever I would gaze upward…toward my goal, I would receive strength and encouragement. In due course, I reached the peak and sat high above the canvas composed of granite, pine, water, and ice and I praised the Creator—not only for this work of genius that stretched out beyond the horizon, but for God’s magnum opus…humankind. I praised God for the faith, courage, and conviction he gives to us when we look toward the heavens and fix our eyes on Jesus Christ who is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I confessed for all the times I set my mind on earthly things, and let those things discourage me and infuse bitterness within my heart and soul.
Eight months ago, I received a letter from someone I deeply cared about that (in effect) terminated our relationship. I had grown to love this entity, respect it, and admire it—it was my employer. I believed with my entire being that God had delivered me to this position. I was convinced that this was my calling. I dedicated my entire life to serving my employer with loyalty and passion. I felt like a lover scorned…I still do. Whenever I gaze upon the trail, and my thoughts turn inward I become bitter and resentful. Whenever I worry about tomorrow…my mortgage, my financial situation, my future career, the anger swells into hatred and malice. Like an estranged lover, I lash out.
Why I believe my own bitterness, resentment, and rage will harm my former employer rather than further harm myself is beyond me? I know I need it to abscond. When this occurs, I’ve discovered a solution—an escape. By looking up, I find release from these things that bind me. If I focus on Christ, instead of earthly thing—the things along the trail—be that financial problems, career changes, frustrations, pains, fatigue, bitterness, and rage—by looking up, these things blow away with the wind down into the vast granite valley that lies before me. By dying to this life and the worries it carries, and looking up toward Christ at the right hand of God, my rage and bitterness disappear. By looking up, my goal is a reality and I’m assured that someday I’ll sit upon the mountain peak of God, high above His great canvas, and praise the Creator for all eternity.
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”