The image you see here is from one of my favorite places in the world – the peak of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah. I made the hike to this peak with my dad and a group of friends almost 5 years ago, and it is by far one of the most beautiful and most terrifying things I’ve ever done. My fear of heights has not gone away after this accomplishment like I expected them to – but still, it was an incredible moment that taught me the meaning of “living on the mountaintop”.
I’ve had many mountain top moments in my life, some that were literal like this one and some that were metaphorical in my life. Standing on stage exchanging wedding vows with Kelly, walking across the stage in Dimnet Chapel to receive my diploma from seminary, and preaching at Zion Reformed Church for the first time were some “mountain tops” that I will always remember as big, important moments in my life. Even though I was only on a stage that was a few feet off the ground, I felt like I was on top of the world.
I haven’t had one of these experiences in a while. In fact, I’ve been living in a bit of a valley, a low spot in my personal life and at work where I’ve felt tired and worn out, like a failure in my ministry and my marriage. I won’t go into many details, because it’s not necessary, but it’s been a rough month or so. Spiritually, I’ve been drained, because pouring out my heart in prayer and searching the Scriptures for answers didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything.
(Yes, you read that correctly – I am a pastor and I am saying that praying and reading my Bible didn’t help. At all. In fact, most of the time they made me more frustrated!)
However, in the past day or two, some things have started to turn about and the valleys have started to seem less low. Nothing is a simple fix, of course, but I’m now starting to see that there is a way out of valleys that I’ve been stuck in. Things are starting to change. Am I back on the mountain top? Absolutely not, but I think I’m heading in that direction.
Do I like being stuck in a valley, feeling like failure and burn out are my normal life? Absolutely not. I don’t know of anyone who does. But, what I’ve realized recently is that living my life on a mountaintop isn’t the way to do things, either. Mountaintops come with energy and excitement and success – but no one can stay there forever. There is always a time to come down from the mountaintop, whether it is a slow climb back to the bottom or a crashing, tumbling fall straight down. The fall hurts, but it also gives us something to work towards, the memory of the mountaintop that pushes us to dust ourselves off and climb back up, no matter how injured we are or how far away it might feel.The mountains around us inspire us, and keep us going.
Maybe you’re feeling like me today, as grey as the Michigan weather is outside, wondering where certain things went wrong and why you’re feeling how you’re feeling. Or, maybe you’re up on a mountain top, feeling energized and proud and also terrified of how high you are and what it might take to get back down. Or, maybe you’re somewhere in between, traveling up or down and feeling the sore muscles and tiredness that comes with travel.
Where ever you find yourself today, I want you to hear this: IT’S OKAY. It’s okay to love the mountaintops and the rush that comes with them, and it’s okay to feel the frustration of the valleys that surround them and the pain that can come with looking up and wondering how you fell. It’s okay to be in the middle, working to travel from point A to point B and wondering if it will be worth it. Trust me – whatever spot you are in, it is worth it.
Because, mountaintops teach us to work hard, set goals, and never settle for the place we are in. The path up teaches us to keep striving for better places and to never stop working. The path down teaches us to slow our pace and to be thankful for where we have been and for the journey that it takes to get there and back. The valleys shape us, teaching us about ourselves, what we are called to, and to hold the memories of the view from the top in the same hand as we hold the pain of being at the bottom. We need all of these places to be human and to be whole – to live into the space that God has created us for.
I’m not sure where you are today. I’m not even sure where I am today – somewhere in the middle of all of this, I think. But I do know this – no matter where you are or where you’ve been, there is beauty in the place you are and something to be learned from it. And, like you can see in the picture below – there are pretty good views from the valley, too.