Okay. I need to make a confession. I know this makes me a bad Vancouverite, but I am not really an outdoorsy person. My roommates actually say that I’m an ‘indoorsy’ person. This means that I would rather be watching Survivor from the comfort of my home than risking life and limb out in the wild.
I was reminded of this a couple weekends ago while on a hike with some friends. Being in the mountains and walking through the woods was actually a very good time, but I caught myself focussing my eyes on my feet. A lot. I was more concerned with making sure I didn’t get my feet dirty (In fairness, there was a lot of mud) than with seeing the amazing beauty of God’s creation around me.
I knew there was more to see than the muddy ground and my boots, but I felt this need to focus on each step. I found myself rationalizing this nearsightedness, yet at the same time was very aware that I wasn’t even seeing half the picture. I didn’t want to put my foot ankle-deep in muck, or on a slippery patch of moss that would send me careening down the side of Mt. Seymour. The times when I looked up, I was filled with joy and awe. I saw my amazing friends surrounding me. I saw God’s handiwork on display — the beautiful sight of majestic evergreens vanishing into mountain fog. The picture I was missing out on was much greater than what I was so focussed on.
When reflecting on that hike, I realized that this misdirected focus isn’t just a problem for me when I am walking through literal mud. It is also an issue when I’m walking through the figurative mud of life.
For me, that mud of life is epitomized in November. It is one of the worst months weather-wise here in Vancouver (tied with December, January, February, and March). It is the month where we realize that many more months of winter are ahead of us (December, January, February, and March). For me (and other students), it is the month where term papers and final exams slowly start to dominate every waking thought. Year-end is coming up for people in the working world, bringing big final pushes, long hours, and stress. For families, it is often a time of figuring out Christmas holidays, visits with in-laws, buying presents for the kids, and trying to make it all look beautiful while staying on budget. Plus it is dark all the time. November is tough.
In life in general, but especially in November, we often can get caught with our eyes on our feet hoping we don’t take a wrong step. This November, I have been hit with the conviction that there is more to look at than the seemingly overwhelming tasks of my day-to-day life. When I have become consumed with term papers, God has made me aware, as He did on that mountain hike, that I am missing out on the bigger, more beautiful picture.
When I think of mountains, I think of Psalm 121. In this passage, the psalmist writes “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes form the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This psalm is about God’s goodness to us, His care for us. We are promised the He will not let our feet slip, that the sun will not harm us by day, nor the moon by night because the LORD will keep us from all harm, and He will watch over our lives. Those are the words of comfort I need to hear when I’m up to my ankles in the mud of November.
As we’ve been going through our current sermon series, the Cloud of Witnesses, from Hebrews 11, we have been ending each week’s readings with Hebrews 12:1-2:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Maybe it’s just because I’ve heard these verses read every week for the past two months, but I think that when Psalm 121 calls us to look to the mountains and see where our help comes from, it is the same call as Hebrews 12. When we lift our eyes, we are called to look to Jesus. He is exalted at the right hand of God. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith.
But what does that mean in November?
What does that mean when I hand in a subpar term paper or have to endure an awkward family gathering?
Sometimes it seems like in these things, my feet are indeed slipping. But when that feeling arises, I need look up. I need to shift my focus back to Christ. The glory of His redeeming work on the cross, His death, burial, and resurrection, far outshines any glory I could hope to gain from surprising someone with the perfect Christmas gift or getting an ‘A’ on a term paper.
Whether up to our ankles in the mud of life, or feeling on top of the world on one of life’s mountain tops, we need to be looking to Christ. His glory is far more beautiful than anything we could accomplish; His faithful, loving, and redeeming care for us is greater than the problems of life which can consume us.