Psalm 121: 1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
My husband and I like to hike and we have been on many trails through the years. I’ve heard several people speak about their experiences on a mountaintop or a trail and how this proximity to nature inevitably produces the proverbial “mountaintop experience” of feeling closer to God. In life, these experiences don’t have to physically be on the top of a mountain; but as a hiker, my husband and I often speak of the spiritual experience we have as well as the physical one of conquering a difficult climb.
Recently, we took a trip out west and reversed our hiking experience by hiking down into a canyon. When hiking on a mountain, you typically climb up for a few hours and reach a summit and then pause to enjoy the views and you feel exhilarated that you have conquered the climb. The hike back down is a more relaxing pace, giving you time to reflect on the experience. Canyon hiking is quite the opposite. We started our 17 1/2 mile trek the first day by going down for about 1 1/2 miles and then found ourselves in the valley of the canyon for most of the remainder of the hike that day. Although there were a few areas we had to climb, most of the hike was not too hard and the only danger was the rocky trail, which made looking up at the amazing views of the canyon more difficult. I found this type of hiking so interesting. For years we have worked our way up a mountain and savored the views at the end but this time the views were in the middle of the hike and the most difficult portion of the hike was at the end of the second day 8-mile hike, where we had to climb back out of the canyon when we were already exhausted. I termed it an “inversion hike”, a play on the term inversion, which we sometimes encounter when the clouds are below us as we summit a mountain.
Something occurred to me during that experience in the canyon. When I was walking through the canyon floor and picking my way through the rocky terrain, I couldn’t help but feel the analogy of a “valley experience” of life just like the mountain ridge has always reminded me of the “mountaintop experience”. The feeling of being surrounded by canyon walls on all sides was intimidating as I knew the only way out was to climb back up. That revelation was a powerful reality that proved physically difficult as well. While standing on the canyon floor, we were able to look up and be amazed by God’s creation all around us but we also knew that those canyon walls were tall and our battered bodies would face the most difficult part of the hike when we were the most tired. We finished day two with the 1 1/2 mile ascent and when we reached the top of that canyon wall, as tired as we were, we both felt great that we had conquered the trail. This time, however, we weren’t at the top of a mountain at all, we were just dead even—on level ground. All that work and we were back where we had started. It made me reflect on how I approach a “valley” in my own life. As I thought about the days on that trail, I realized that maybe we don’t always understand how to get out of a valley. Do we depend solely on God to get us out or do we understand that it might take a great deal of effort on our part to climb the side of the wall? My husband and I are in good shape but even so, we had to encourage each other to get out of that canyon the second day and it was a great asset to have each other along the way. It made me reflect on how much my friends and family have meant to me when I needed them…but there were times when I tried to do it all alone and found myself slipping back into the valley over and over again. God wants to be our helper and our guide out of that valley. Although He has the power to do it without any help from us or anyone else, I believe that the climb can be part of our healing and the lessons of dependence on Him and others may be the most valuable part of the experience. As my husband and I reached the crest of the canyon wall we were exhausted and spent but our journey was not over. We still needed to drive back to town…another four hours in the car… another journey was just beginning. This made me realize that our mountains and valleys are just a small part of the overall journey.
This excursion was a good physical analogy for me as I reflected on the “valleys” in my walk through life. The next time I find myself in a valley of some kind, I hope that I will remember the “inversion hike” example and these three things: First, it takes an effort to climb out of a valley. That mile and a half back up the side of that canyon was tough after hiking so much. We were tired and ready to finish but there was no way to get out of there until we got up that trail and we just had to take it one step at a time until we reached the top. God is there for you and will help you but you’ve got to make an effort yourself. Second, it’s much easier to get through a bad time with some encouragement from someone else. If you know someone who’s having a struggle of some kind, a simple word of encouragement might do more for them than you will ever know; but if you’re the one in the valley, remember not to turn away help from someone who is reaching out to you. It’s hard to get out of that valley alone and there’s no reason why you should. Third, even though my husband and I worked incredibly hard to get up the side of that canyon, we ended up on level ground—not one step higher than where we had started…and that was difficult to know that we were just at the start of another journey… it wasn’t over. I think sometimes we expect God to not only deliver us from our valleys with no effort on our part but we also expect Him to deliver us to a place that we feel that we deserve or at least to an ending point where we can rest, but it may only be the beginning of a new direction or journey in our lives.
In reality, we need valleys to understand our dependence on God, our friends, and an understanding that not everything can be a mountain. Even in the depth of that canyon, I saw God all around me in the amazing cliffs that loomed overhead. Valley’s in our life can be deep and require a long climb up and we will need to put in some effort to get there. Along the way we might need some friends to encourage or even help us and we definitely need Him every step of the journey. When we finally find ourselves on flat level ground again, the journey is not over but is just starting in a new direction. Whether you are on top of a mountain, in the lowest of valleys or somewhere in between…He is with you always.