Mountains We Have Climbed: Lift Your Eyes
It was the first real out of town trip with neighborhood youth that I can remember after moving to Charlotte. We had agreed to take some young folks who had been doing exemplary in school to the mountains. Why? Because they had never been!
During the drive, most of the youth fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we were in the mountains. Can you you imagine?! Falling asleep in nothing more than rolling hills and waking up in the midst of giant swaths of land stretching towards the sky having never seen such a sight before (expect maybe in picture books)! The youth couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They held a sense of awe, wonder, and amazement at the grandeur of the earth.
Then came a question: “How did they do that?” You have to appreciate questions like this from young people, right? How did they do that? I was thinking, “Wait! Before I answer anything, who is “they”?!
Are you talking about people…like someone brought in millions of loads of dirt thousands of years ago, obviously before cars, so they did it by horse and sled or something.
Or are you thinking animals….like this is the work of billions of ants and these mountains are really just giant ant hills… Who is this “they”?
Maybe we responded that this is just part of what happened on this part of the earth over time as the land shifted it kinda buckled. But since none of us were geographers or tectonic plate analysts, I think somebody just said, “Well, that’s how God made it.”
So, during this weekend of camping, we set out on a hike up some mountain near Boone. It’s not a hard hike mind you, but these youth aren’t used to mountains, much less hiking up mountains. And it was pretty arduous trek for all of us. We have to stop to rest about every 5 minutes. The youth are whining and complaining about the hike and the bag they are carrying and basically anything and everything. You know how young folks can be!
Joanie, I, and the other adults are encouraging the youth. We reminding them that we are gonna make it, that they can do it, that this is not all that different from walking the neighborhood, and that if anything happens we are there to help them. Of course, the complaining continued and a few of them even kinda fell out….I’m not sure if they were for real or just having fun being over dramatic!
Finally, after several hours we reach the top. And I remember watching one of them hunched over holding onto her knees tired, thirsty, sweating and panting, look up and for the first time in her life see the world from the top of a mountain peak. And she literally took a step back and held out her hands as if she were going to fall off the mountain.
Can you imagine this? Seeing the view from a peak for the first time in your life? I know there was a time when it was my first time seeing something like this, but I was too young to remember it. And most of you are probably the same way.
But that is the true, honest, and raw wonder of climbing a mountain. And I bet it has happened to you more recently as well. It just wasn’t a mountain made of dirt and land. It was a health mountain or a job mountain or a family situation mountain or a mountain of grief and loss or a mountain of pain and suffering or a goal that you wanted to achieve or an adventure you took.
And you had to do something to get to the peak. Maybe it was a lot of long doctors visits and treatments. Or a promotion you have been chasing through extra long hours and hard work. Or persevering though a really difficult and troubling situation or relationship. Or the struggle over losing someone and the arduous journey through grief. Maybe it was waiting for the light at the end of a tunnel you had set out to traverse all excited at first, but just wearisome and frustrated now.
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.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm —
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)
People have speculated what this psalm is about. Some say it was written in preparation for a battle. Others say it was written in anticipation of a journey somewhere. And still others say it was written for the Israelites as they went up to Jerusalem for holy feasts.
While we may never know for certain what the exact situation was, it is clear that there is something in front of the psalmist. That there is some mountain to climb, some situation to be faced, some journey to embark upon, some spiritual experience just ahead.
Whatever that mountain is, the words encourage us as we read and pray them. They remind us to lift our eyes, raise our heads and set our sights upon the mountain with the assurance that God will go with us to keep us and be our guardian.
There are all kinds of words in the Psalm about God keeping and protecting us. In fact, whether your Bible says guard, protect, keep, watch over, preserve….its all the same Hebrew word in the Psalm: shamar.
Lift your eyes. God is here. Shamar! Shamar! Shamar! God will keep you, guard you, protect you. Shamar! Shamar! Shamar!
By the end, when I read this, I just want sit back and say, Okay, okay! I get it. Shamar. God is gonna watch over me.
It may come across redundant and repetitive. But just like that camping trip with those young folks from the west side of Charlotte, this encouragement and assurance is just what we need to climb the mountain and make it to the top where we can finally sit in awe and amazement knowing that we finally made it.
Over these next few weeks, we’ll share our own stories of the mountains we’ve climbed, how God has been present with us, watching over us, what the climb required of us, and what it was like to make it to the top. I hope you will lift your eyes to the mountains of you past and feel grateful. I hope you will lift your eyes to the mountains in front of you right now and be inspired to take the next step. And I hope you will lift your eyes towards others with a stronger sense of compassion for the mountains they are climbing – many of which are mountains you and I cannot even imagine.