We all seem to have a preference for the type of creation that we find most inspirational or refreshing. Some of us are solely beach folks who love sitting in the sand as the surf rolls in and the sun warms us. Whether it is a sunset or a sunrise, we never tire of the ocean scene and sounds. Others of us get our “high” from the mountains. We love to trek on the trails and sense the greatness of God as we survey the vistas from a higher plane than where most of us live. Discovering wildflowers along the path and feeling the freshness in the air exhilarates us and no matter what the season we love going there. A few of us love both of these.
For me, I have been drawn to the mountains the most. Perhaps it is my discomfort with higher temps and humidity that nudges me upward toward the mountains even though I have enjoyed some beaches. Both are quite different from the rolling landscape of the Midwest. Time and again our treks away from home have led us to mountain paths and the sound of gurgling streams.
We’ve been blessed to enjoy the Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada, as well as the mountains of New England. Each area has its own special vibe and attraction. The trails are fun to explore, and I am invariably looking for new wildflowers to discover. Each area will also impact the skill set you need and the conditioning necessary for the elevation you will be traversing.
My photo files are filled with little flowers I noticed along the path to higher mountains ahead. The variety of colors and the way they appear to survive such harsh conditions always speak to me of God’s provision. They also remind me that even if they appear to be isolated and in a desolate place, God has provided for them and placed them exactly where they are. Each time I see such a wildflower I tuck that reminder into my heart for times when I am not in the mountains and yet might feel I am in harsh conditions and somehow isolated. No matter where I am, He is there for me just as He is for the flowers I discover in the mountains.
There is no question that the mountains can appear more than a little intimidating and it is a challenge to pick a trail and head off into the unknown. Even if the known is not sublime, it is familiar.
That was the very dilemma that Much Afraid faced as she lived in the Valley of Humiliation surrounded by lovely mountains. She had longed to be able to climb to the High Places, but she was lame and unsuited for mountain trails. She was haunted by fears within and family and those around her who reinforced those fears and paralyzed her from moving. Yet she was a part of those in the valley who observed the Chief Shepherd as he pastured his flocks there in the care of his fellow workers.
One day Much Afraid has an encounter with the Shepherd and she tells him she has hoped to escape her valley dwelling and all the fearsome people surrounding her and go to the High Places. He tells her something that creates an even greater longing to be transported there: “The lower slopes of those mountains on the other side of the river are the borderland of my Father’s Kingdom, the Realm of Love. No Fears of any kind are able to live there because ‘perfect love casteth out fear and everything that torments.'”
The invitation from the Shepherd delights her and yet her own doubt and fear quickly rise to the surface of her thoughts. How could she ever manage to go with him where he offered to lead her? She was lame and had no skill. Her fears overwhelmed her more often than she wished but as she looked into the eyes of the Shepherd, she saw such tenderness there that she was drawn to the love they conveyed. Surely if he was with her, no harm could come her way and she could manage the trip with his help. With trembling in her voice, she accepted the invitation to go with him. Within moments of that acceptance, she hesitates again when he tells her that he will take her to the foot of the mountains so none of her enemies can upend her, but then he has chosen two companions who will travel with her and be her guide up the mountains to the High Places.
Much Afraid had not expected that he would not travel the whole path ahead as her guide and protector. How could he ask that of her?
The Shepherd responded that no matter where she was on the journey or how treacherous the terrain or her lameness, she could call him at any time, and he would hear her and come to help.
How easy for us it is to forget that whatever journey, we are on, just like Much Afraid, we can call on the Chief Shepherd and he will be there to help us. He doesn’t remove the challenges of the climb or the journey but he promises to go with us. Some of us are not unlike Much Afraid and have not been able to ignore the fear that would seek to overtake us in its relentless pursuit of us. But there is purpose for the mountainous terrain and our unskilled ability to face the climb and the companions he chooses for us will be chosen with care even as those Much Afraid will have. But we, like Much Afraid, may not be excited with the companions when we first meet them. Like her, we may not “realize that the Prince of Love is ‘of very tender compassions to them that are afraid.'”