Tripping over your own feet

Living a Christian life is counter-intuitive to our own common sense. Did you realize that? So much of what we think we should do in our own strength is exactly what we shouldn’t do if we want to live the kind of life Christ did.

I mean, think of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The people who are happy are the poor, the meek, the unfortunate, the sorrowful.

Say good things about your enemies. Pray for people who manipulate you. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile for your oppressors. Forgive.

Does any of that sound intuitive to you? It doesn’t to me. My first instinct when I get my feelings hurt is to hurt the perpetrator back, not to turn around and say good things about them. And I don’t want to pray for people who use me. And I don’t want to work myself to death for someone who’s just going to hurt me in the end.

But . . . Jesus did.

Today’s verse is Psalm 25:14-15.

14 The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
      He teaches them his covenant.
 15 My eyes are always on the Lord,
      for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

There’s a lot to cover in this passage, but the part that stood out to me this morning is verse 15.

Okay. I’m a fairly clumsy person. It’s not uncommon for me to run into things on the rare occasion. I’m not as bad as some people I know, but I’m certainly not the most graceful person in the world either. Just get me to try to mount a horse or ride in a canoe and you’ll find out how awkward I am. But walking doesn’t generally give me any trouble, unless there are a lot of obstacles on the ground.

I went to a writing workshop in Colorado in June of this year with my best buddy, Katie Morford, and we hiked up a mountain trail to take pictures. Well, I learned a long time ago that my asthma, though it is better than it was when I was a child, still loves to flare up in low-oxygen environments. And the only way I can keep going in a situation like that is if I look at my feet. If I try to walk like I normally do, over rocks and roots and beautiful bubbling streams, I will step wrong and fall on my face. I actually did fall during that hike, but I caught myself with one hand on a rock and the other on my camera to keep it from smashing into the ground.

I have to watch my feet. I have to second guess every step because my brain stops working. I can’t look at my destination because if I focus on where I’m going I won’t be able to get there. I have to focus on how I get there, where I step, how big of a step to take, how solid the ground is, how wiggly the rocks are, how tired my legs are, how much tread is on my twelve-year-old boots.

How many of us Christians are just stumbling through life? How many of us are bound to watch our feet and watch our step because if we dare to look up we’re scared that we’ll fall?

Here’s where Psalm 25:15 comes in. The Message, a paraphrase but a good translation, translates this verse:

15 If I keep my eyes on God,
   I won’t trip over my own feet.

What makes sense when you’re traveling rocky ground is to watch your feet to make sure that you don’t step wrong. That’s instinctive. What isn’t instinctive is to keep your eyes on your destination.

Living a Christian life isn’t easy. It’s hard. It’s harder than anything else. Becoming a Christian is easy. Living like one is a challenge. The ground is rocky and full of pits and traps, and my instinctive reaction when walking through a minefield is to stare at my feet. But that means that I’m trusting myself to get me through safely. And I can’t trust myself because I don’t know where I’m going. (I’m the person who got lost in Wal-Mart when their store designers moved the Katie Lee section.) I don’t know all the plans God has for me and for my life, and I have to look to Him constantly so that He can show me where I’m supposed to go.

I can’t watch my feet and His direction at the same time.

So the only thing to do is the counter-intuitive thing to do. To watch Him and trust that He won’t let me step wrong. If I’m watching Him and if I’m trusting Him for every step I take, He won’t let me stand on a loose rock or a weak bridge over a pit or step on a mine. If I watch Him and follow His directions, He will take me down safe paths. They won’t be easy and they may not be comfortable, but no matter where the path goes or how it gets me there, I will be safer with Him than I ever would be following my own directions.

And if I keep my eyes on Him, He will keep me from tripping over my own feet. If I keep my eyes on Him, He will prevent me from making mistakes I shouldn’t make.

And the awesome thing about God is that even if I’ve been following myself it’s not too late for me. God is big enough to pull me out of any pit I’ve fallen into. All I have to do is look to Him, and He will rescue me and put me on the safe path.

The Asthmatic Mountain Climber’s Guide to Life

I’ve never been mountain climbing. Not really. Considering that I have a hard time breathing when I even cross the state line into Colorado, climbing up on top of a mountain is probably not the smartest thing for me to do. I’d probably be so oxygen deprived that I’d make a stupid mistake and fall off the edge.

I have, however, been on a mountain hike before. And I hated it. Not that I didn’t love the scenery; it was beautiful. And not that I didn’t love the company; they were my best friends and the youth group I grew up with. I just couldn’t breathe. And breathing is kind of essential, no matter what you’re doing.

We were at a camp in Colorado, and yes it was beautiful, but the camp up there was psycho. I’m going to avoid names because probably some people have been to this camp, and they probably adored it. I didn’t think much of it, mainly because no one at the camp seemed to even believe that I had a respiratory problem and they took my inhaler away from me and I spent most of the week there unable to breathe. (They even made me play one of the games that entailed running around in the woods, and even when I actually did pass out and skin my knees all up, they still wouldn’t give me my inhaler to use.)

I mean, I was glad that I went to camp. I had never been before (and I never went again, to be honest), but I know I probably learned some valuable lessons about life (kind of the same lessons I learned from my first year in college). I will say, though, that I think back on that mountain hike a lot. The counselors pretty much rounded us all up and herded us up the mountain like a pack of sheep or cows or something. We didn’t have a choice. We had to go.

And I didn’t want to. But the counselors were my authorities, and I always tried to submit to my authorities even when I was a kid. And I knew I would be in trouble about halfway through the hike because they had taken my inhaler away and wouldn’t let me have it. But I went without a fuss because it was the right thing to do (this would be a good post about how authorities need to be responsible for the lives of the people they lead, but that’s totally a topic for another time).

I remember hiking up that mountain. It started out okay, but the higher we got, the harder the hike became. The rocks got looser, and the path disappeared. My lungs stopped working, pretty much, and I was having to take breaks after a couple of feet (remember that, Carrie?). I remember being dizzy and lightheaded, and I couldn’t enjoy the scenery around me because I was so focused on staying upright. But I took it slow (and my wonderful friends all kept coming back to check on me because they all just rock like that) and I eventually made it up to the top of the mountain. And, yes, the view was beautiful, but the journey back down was just as much trouble as the journey to the top. Actually more. Because going down, you are threatened to let yourself run, and my legs were already shaking so badly that running would have been a really awful idea. But we did it. We made it down to the bottom of the mountain and got water to drink, and I sat still and forced my lungs to work as best they could.

I’ve been thinking about that mountain hike a lot in the last month.

I am so overloaded with work, I can’t even express how much there is to do. And it keeps coming. And I can’t help feeling like I’m in the middle of that mountain hike with no inhaler, the path stretching onward and upward out of sight and I have no strength to keep following it, but I have to keep going because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s discouraging. It’s beyond discouraging. It’s the darkest, saddest feeling in the world, knowing that you’ve done your very best to achieve something and that you can’t make any progress either because you’re too weak or the task that’s been given to you is too big.

That’s why I love this verse.

Joshua 1:9

9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

 Joshua had a huge task in front of him. Much larger than a mountain hike. Much larger than a pile of work at a job. He had to lead the people of Israel in war. How overwhelming would that have been? And to have to fill the shoes of Moses? And the people of Israel had already prove to be the most difficult people in the world to lead. But God told him to be strong and courageous. God told him not to be afraid or to get discouraged, because God would be with him wherever he went.

I have to relearn this every morning, it feels like.

I have too much to accomplish on my own. I think that’s the point. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all have things in our lives that overwhelm us, things that are too big for us to handle on our own, but we have to realize that God is with us wherever we go. Whether it’s at the bottom of a mountain, at the top of it, or struggling on the way up (or the way down). He’s there. And there’s nothing that He can’t handle.

I’m not saying that the hike won’t still be hard. And it will probably intensify in difficulty before you get to the top or the bottom. But you won’t fail. Not if you let Him help.

Do your best. Keep working as hard as you can. Keep breathing. Keep climbing. And don’t worry about the rest. I honestly think that’s what God means when He says to let Him help.  Do your best. Do the best you can. And trust that He can work out the details of what you can’t do.

Even if God has you climb a mountain without your inhaler, He’ll always give you the strength to succeed . . . even if you have to take baby steps and a lot of rest breaks. And when you get back down to the bottom of the mountain, you’ll be able to look back and you’ll be able to see that He kept His promise. That He never left you. Not once. And the next time a mountain comes along your path, it will be much easier to climb.