When I went to England last summer, I got to walk along Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman fortification that separated the “civilized south” from the “barbarian north.” The section that we walked is called Steel Rigg, and it’s a beautiful trail that winds up and down through the green windswept highlands. Maybe some people think it’s barren, but I think it’s beautiful. And steep. It was ridiculously steep in some places, and I’m not the most graceful or coordinated person. The photograph I picked today shows a particularly treacherous bit. I snapped the picture while the three people ahead of us were trying to get up the side of the hill, just for perspective. You probably have to enlarge the photo to see them (yes, that man is wearing a camouflage poncho….Americans).
I’m not a really active person. I’m trying to be. I’m working on being more active, walking more and taking the stairs and such, but a three or four mile hike up and down wet stone steps with crazy wind isn’t something I do every day. So I was a little nervous about it. And, plus, since I have a clumsy streak, I was absolutely sure I was going to trip on one of the ancient stone steps and tumble down a hillside. But I was determined that I was going to finish this. And I did.
Granted, I had my best friend along with me, reminding me to take it slow and walking beside me in spite of my snail’s pace. And we had a guide with us who knew where he was going. And my brother was along, who’s just a calming influence on me anyway. Without the three of them, there’s no way I would have braved Hadrian’s Wall.
Today’s verse is Isaiah 41:10.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
New years are hard work. They’re sort of like starting from scratch, except you go into them carrying all your excess baggage from the previous year. There are only so many resolutions you can make (only so many resolutions you can keep), and most of the time you find yourself giving in toward the end of the second week anyway.
I’d love to believe that a new year means you can start over again, but turning a calendar page doesn’t give you the power to start a new life. It just means you have to press forward in spite of all the junk you didn’t finish last year. Let’s just be real here. Can you honestly say you’ve done everything you had planned to do in 2013? How about in 2012 or 2011 or 2010? You get the point. I still have projects I started in 1994 that I’m trying to get done (maybe that’s just me).
And that’s discouraging. Personally I have so many awesome things I want to do, so many things I want to accomplish, but life keeps getting in the way, and it’s frustrating beyond measure. And when I sit down with my calendar to figure out how to fit everything I want to do into this set of 365 days, I begin to see how impossible it is, and it makes me want to give up, especially when I meet resistance from every angle.
Then, I run into a verse like Isaiah 41:10 that reminds me not to be afraid or discouraged. Whether it’s the start of a new year or not, life is full of uncertainties, and if you focus on them, you’ll depress yourself. Not knowing is always depressing, I think. And that’s why it’s important to focus on what we do know. As Christ followers, we know that God is with us. We know that He’s promised never to leave us, and we know that He’s working everything in our lives out for good, in spite of how crummy our circumstances may look right now.
It’s like walking along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s hard work, living life. Sometimes you have to watch your feet instead of the scenery because you aren’t sure if your next step is going to be solid enough to transfer your weight from one stone to another, but you can’t stop moving. I mean, you can. But what good will that do you? You can give up and stop moving forward, and then you’ll be stranded out in the middle of Northern England until someone brings a helicopter to come pick you up.
Like Hadrian’s Wall, life has ups and downs, harsh inclines and steep drops, damp stone steps and uncertain footing, and it can be tempting to give up and stand still. That’s why it’s important to have somebody walking with you, someone who moves at your pace, someone who knows where they’re going, someone to catch you when you fall.
Everyone is facing something today. Financial challenges. Work challenges. Health challenges. Family challenges. There’s a challenge for every person–sometimes more than one, usually more than two or three. But as Christ followers, we’re not facing those challenges alone. We just have to remember that. God has told us not to be afraid and not to be discouraged. He will give us the strength we need to keep moving forward. He is always victorious, and He’s offering that help to us today. We just have to take it.