“Mom, please, pleeaase can we hike all the way to the top?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Look at our shoes. And Daddy has already said that he doesn’t want us going up there,” I answered, being a definite party-pooper amongst the tween and young teen girls on the side of a mountain in Colorado yesterday.
Our church family had gone camping together. We pitched our tents in a valley, at the base of several small mountains (well, between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, which is small for Colorado). The children were lured upwards, towards the mountain tops, so very curious about what was up there. The peak became a lodestone when the teens ventured up and bounded back with reports of a steep climb that was, “so cool, you guys have to try it!”
I agreed to walk with a few girls about halfway up the hill. I had already told my husband that we wouldn’t go any further and not to worry. Our crew consisted of two moms, a dog, and five girls ages 5 to 13. I was wearing sandals. The five-year-old was wearing her light-up sneakers on the wrong feet. We carried no water bottles, no cell phones, and no jackets.
You can see where this is going. And so could I. But I didn’t put a stop to it. The girls were pleading with us moms to keep climbing and I was increasingly captivated by the goodness of pushing the girls to do a hard thing.
We had heard reports from the park ranger about a den of mountain lions on the very hill that we were climbing. There was no trail, just one’s sense of up and down and left and right. We were all a little scared, but so tempted to try and conquer the peak. We cycled from worry to perseverance and back again.
“Maybe we should turn back. I can’t see the camp anymore.”
“It would be such a bummer to do all this hard work and not taste the victory at the top.”
“Mom, I’m scared.”
“Let’s press on, girls!”
The view at the top did not disappoint. We savored it and pondered God’s majesty and the sight of snow in June from a grove of aspen trees and wildflowers. After some time, we turned back towards what we thought was the way we came and began to descend the hill.
The mountain was a sea of greens and grays and browns. Without a trail to guide us, we made our best bet. Whoever was in front simply charted our course, veering left of loose rocks, or ducking right under fallen trees. Back and forth we tramped until we found ourselves at the top of a yet unseen, steep incline about 100 feet above a rushing river.
Proverbs 14:12 relentlessly ran through my mind, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
The way we took seemed right. How far off track can you get when you simply do an about-face and head back the way you came? And yet, our imperfect and limited human perspective had landed us way off course. We had no bearing and wondered if we had veered too far left or too far right. Should we travel upstream or downstream?
Human perspective is like that. Things seem right, but they are not. We are limited by the trees in front of us—our circumstances, our feelings, our goals. We cannot see the whole mountain, the big picture, the way to our destination.
As we drifted off course DA Carson’s words also made their home in my mind, “People do not drift towards holiness.” Without a plan and boundaries and help we drift towards what seems right to us. We do not drift towards towards God or towards the right destination. Left to our own sight and capabilities, we drift towards what seems right, but what is actually death.
We girls stopped and prayed and asked the Lord to lead us home. We endured a couple long hours of anxiety. The girls did their best to keep a positive attitude and even quoted Philippians, which Mark is preaching through right now. Outwardly I kept my cool, while inwardly I wondered what my husband would say to our friends about their missing daughters while he grieved the loss of his wife and half of his children.
You know how this story ends because I’m here to tell it. With the Spirit’s help we chose to traverse the steep hill and move downstream. When we saw the first glimpse of a red tent we all shouted for joy and ran to the camp. My husband was genuinely on the verge of creating a search party and while he was certainly upset with my judgement and not keeping my word that we would only venture half way up, he quickly forgave me at the sight of our group.
As for us girls, our way seemed right, but it was foolish. Thankfully, God in his mercy prevented it from ending in death (or any other unfortunate manner). And I have learned anew—and not for the last time—that I do not naturally drift towards truth, towards home, towards what is right. Whether in the midst of blinding circumstances or completely lost on the middle of a mountain, I need thee every hour.