If you are located in a valley with lush green open space where you can enjoy the mountains from afar, why go up into the mountains and the challenge that creates? They are lovely to look at even when you can’t see all of them due to clouds, fog, or heavy mist. But it can almost feel like an unspoken invitation that the mountains give to come closer and get to know them better. And in Hinds Feet on High Places, we know that Much Afraid has been invited by the Chief Shepherd to go there and surely, he knows the way better than anyone.
Much Afraid looked at the mountains every day and longed to go there to escape the fear that haunted her in the valley and the people around her that added to her fear. For her whole life she had never been able to ignore the things these people said to her or the fears that came upon her. Despite having a crooked mouth, lame feet, and a timidity that brought her to a place of being immobile, she could not consider what impediments might be there if the Chief Shepherd made the invitation and promised good companions to be with her all along the way.
Mountain trails and hikes always guarantee an adventure. You can study all the trails on a map and get guidance from those who have traveled there before but the day you start the trek will not be the same as it was for anyone else. That is what our journey with the Lord is like as well. He invites each of us to know Him and journey with Him, but he doesn’t give us a map of the whole route and even when we talk with others who have journeyed with Him for a longer time, we discover that our journey will be unique to us.
How well I recall when we were hiking on a trail in Alberta, Canada, with no one else around and suddenly coming upon a muddy patch in the path that showed the clear imprint of a bear’s paw! We kept moving and tried to make plenty of noise since we had no idea where or when the bear had crossed that path.
That was one day that I didn’t meander slowly searching for the wildflowers that I sought to discover whenever we were in the mountains.
As I mentioned in a previous post, wildflowers in the mountains can teach us things for our own journey. Look at what the Chief Shepherd told Much Afraid about wildflowers: “Nothing my Father and I made is ever wasted, and the little wildflowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them. Just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is happy to love, even though one is not loved in return”
What a challenge there is in that statement. They offer themselves even if no one is there to appreciate them. Think how often people may trek along that trail and never notice the wildflowers scattered near their feet in banks of old leaves or tucked in between rocky crevices.
But the Chief Shepherd doesn’t stop there as he shares with Much Afraid. His next words speak directly to her but also to us: “All the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at.”
We live in an age and time when being noticed and applauded is more often sought after than ever before. Yet this understanding the Chief Shepherd offers us is key to growing in him and developing humility.
One of the hardest parts of the journey at the outset for Much Afraid was when the Chief Shepherd introduced the two companions he had chosen to guide and be with her on the journey to the High Places. When she met them, she noticed they were tall and appeared very strong, but they were veiled, silent, and offered her no greeting. Certainly, these were not the ones he had chosen for her.
How much like us that can be. We are in a hard place, and we are sure we could feel comfort and encouragement if only this person or that person would call us, send a card, visit us, and offer to pray with us. But in the real world, in the midst of tragedy and crisis we are often surprised at those who come because they are not always those we expect and yet they are God’s means of grace to us.
So why go to the High Places? What can these mysterious guides and companions teach Much Afraid? What can be learned along the way and what have we learned from the companions for our journey that we did not expect?
We need to climb to the High Places because that is how we develop hinds’ feet to be able to go to the highest peaks and leap forward with the Chief Shepherd after as he heals our lame feet along the way and transforms us through the journey.
And it is then we learn what the Chief Shepherd told Much Afraid about the High Places:
“The High Places are the starting places for the journey down to the lowest place in the world. When you have hinds’ feet and can go ‘leaping on the mountains and skipping on the hills,’ you will be able, as I am, to run down from the heights in gladdest self-giving and then go up to the mountains again. You will be able to mount to the High Places swifter than eagles, for it is only up on the High Places of Love that anyone can receive power to pour themselves down in utter abandonment of self-giving.”
After these tender but powerful words, the Chief Shepherd tells Much Afraid the names of the companions he has chosen especially for her on the trip to the High Places. As she watched the mysterious figures with trembling, she became truly frightened when she learned their names were Sorrow and Suffering.
Much Afraid wondered as we often do why the Chief Shepherd who spoke of his love for her and a promise to take her to the High Places and give her a new name would now give her such companions as these. Why not Joy and Peace? But the way of the Chief Shepherd is not hers and the way the Lord often takes us is not what we would choose or what makes any sense to us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways