Instructors spend a lot of time standing at the bottom of rock climbs with their necks craned upward and eyes squinting into the sun as they coach teens and adults in climbing techniques. The goal is always to help the climber get a little farther than he thought was possible in order to show him he can do hard things. Conquering a rock face is a real life example of what it means to persevere, trust God, and overcome. It is rewarding as an instructor to see a participant make the connection and begin a transformation that can only come from God.
During a recent adventure retreat, I had the opportunity to take several families rock climbing. What a treat it was to watch moms and dads climb next to their sons and daughters! The day was filled with struggle, pain, encouragement, and exclamations of joy; the ups and downs created a beautiful picture of life’s journey in Christ.
On this particular day, I noticed a common occurrence as each person climbed. Anyone trying rock climbing for the first time experiences the difficulty and discomfort of contorting his body into strange positions to shimmy up the rock. Many people hug the rock, gripping tightly with hands, grasping for anything resembling security. So once they have ascended and overcome the discomfort and fears that have assailed them up the rock, it is easy to think their worries are over. Not so. Next comes the descent, and this activity requires that they actually release their grip from the security of the rock they have come to trust, lean backward, and transfer their trust to the rope and belayer to prevent them from falling. Talk about uncomfortable! As one student exclaimed, “You want me to do what?! That’s crazy! Can’t I just climb down?”
How often I respond to God exactly the same way! “You want me to do what? It took a lot for me just to begin attending that church, and now you want me to lead a small group? I really like the comfort of these relationships and this home, and now you are asking me to go minister to people in another country? Can’t I just go back the way I came? Can’t I just huddle in the comfort of life as I know it?” Comfort, security, and independence draw and deceive me. Only when I dare step outside my comfort zone do I realize just how easily I have been lulled into accepting a mediocre life rather than trusting my Belayer to hold me in true, abundant life. Jesus tells us that “anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:37-39) True life is found in fully leaning away from the false security of material possessions, financial stability, and comfortable relationships and trusting that God will take care of the rest.
There is more, though, to leaning fully into God and trusting Him. As a climber grapples with what it means to lean away from the rock and trust the rope to lower him to the ground, an awkward dance occurs. The climber lets go of the rock and begins to lean back, but quickly lunges for the security of the rock once again.
“You have to let go of the rock and lean your whole body back,” the instructor encourages.
“I am!” comes the exasperated reply of the petrified climber.
“No, you aren’t. Look! You are still holding onto the rock. You are still holding yourself up and not letting the rope hold you.” The climber simply doesn’t realize that he hasn’t actually let go, that he is still trying to remain in control.
It is not enough for us to know we need to let go and trust. There is a required, intentional act of surrender every time we encounter an area that we have refused to place in God’s control, thinking we must provide our own security. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” I often deceive myself and believe that I am surrendering fully when there are still areas of my life that I have not yet released to Him unconditionally. Hence, this explains why a life fully surrendered to God is a journey, not a destination to arrive at. Throughout our lives, God asks us to surrender more and more to Him. And when we do surrender and fall into Him, He catches us and returns us to the solid ground below.
That solid ground may not have changed much, but the person who moves out of comfort, relinquishing false security and surrendering by leaning fully into Him, will never be the same.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.