I found a photo last week of me and my friend Amy. We are standing at the peak of Mount Huron in Colorado, grinning ear to ear, with hoodies up. Arms linked, our faces beam in pure triumph. The sky behind us is dotted with clouds and the sun is poking through them.
It’s a picture of victory.
What isn’t pictured is the tremendous effort it took to climb this mountain. Anyone who has hiked a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado understands the physical energy and mental acumen it takes to summit one. At the time of this picture of Amy and me, Amy was by far the stronger athlete. She had already hiked many other mountains while I had not. My hiking experiences had been limited and short, never reaching long hauls.
A 14-er trail goes up and up and up. I know that sounds simplistic, but it’s true. The trail never completely flattens out. The incline may be gradual at times, but its trajectory is most assuredly, upwards. Sometimes, the trail switches back and forth across the side of the mountain. Sometimes, it winds through trees. Sometimes, it’s rocky. Sometimes, it’s covered in the knobs and knots of gnarled tree branches.
It can also be unpredictable, especially if a threat of mid-day storms hovers on the horizon. Then, one is on a timetable of “make it to the top before the weather hits”. The steady movement on one’s own two legs is grueling. It intensifies as altitude is gained, for the air thins and breathing becomes labored.
My stamina for upward hikes slowly drained during my Mount Huron trek. The sluggish process of the climb took more energy than any run I’d ever tried to accomplish. Without adding any flowering words, this 14-er climb was downright exhausting. During one of our rest breaks, I convinced myself that I would just remain on the comfortable boulder I’d found for a seat and let the moss grow over me.
The exhaustion got into my bones, into my lungs, and into my mind.
Noun. Definition: a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue; the action or state of using something up or being used up completely.
As the last quarter of 2022 spreads before me, exhaustion is the perfect descriptor for all I’m seeing, hearing, and experiencing. One of my co-workers commented to me last week, “It seems like everyone’s going through something.” No joke there. One need not look far to find food shortages, financial crises, hurting people, rumors of war, marriages crumbling, kids struggling, health issues, and mental health concerns. These troubles plague our world, our neighborhoods, our churches and schools, and our homes. Not only is nearly everyone I encounter going through some version of a hard time, they are also worn out.
Depleted. Drained. Done in. Exactly how I felt as I sat on that hard boulder on the side of a mountain, thinking,
“Let me just die here.”
As much as I felt alone on that mountain that day, I wasn’t. Amy was there. She opened her backpack and produced trail mix for a snack. Then, a peanut butter sandwich. Then, a joke. Then, her hand pulled me up. Before I knew it, my tired, heavy legs were moving again as I followed her lead.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from the Old Testament. It’s the book of Exodus. God’s people, the Israelites, having escaped from Egypt, are now facing their first enemies in the land. Joshua, a young commander in the army, leads them into battle. On the hill overlooking the scene, is Moses, the great leader of Israel. Moses holds his hands in a blessing over the battle. And then, Moses isn’t alone: Aaron and Hur come to hold up his hands when Moses wearies. Joshua and his army win the battle over their enemies.
When I’m in the thick of a battle—whether it’s against depression, or anxiety, or the next move in my job, or what to do for my kids, the easy option is for me to believe I am alone.
That no one cares. That no one understands. That no one knows. It’s also very hard, when you’re fighting, to look up from a battle scene. But, if I do, I know I will see people around me. My husband who does the dishes and picks up the dog poop. My friend who texts me mid-week to ask me how I am. The church leader who stops in the hallway to pray over me. My mom who arrives on my doorstep with dinner in hand.
These reminders press in my mind this truth: I am not alone.
When Jesus walked the earth, He understood getting weary. Often, in the New Testament Gospels, we see Him resting, or sleeping, or eating food. When we observe Him as God-in-the-flesh in these actions, we also see Him with people. He was with his disciples, or with Mary and Martha, or at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, or the Pharisee’s house as the guest for dinner. He invited them all to be with Him as the great Burden Bearer, the One Who provides rest, and the One Who gives peace. “Are you weary?”, He said. “Carrying a heavy burden? Come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. You will find refreshment and rest in me.”
Refreshment, rest, oasis.
All those things sound pretty great to an exhausted heart, soul, and mind. Just like a peanut butter sandwich tasted amazing on the trek to Mount Huron’s top. I can come to Jesus and cry and pray and sit at His feet, and then, soul renewed, I can go to a brother or sister and carry them in their hard times. I can’t take their burden away or solve their problems or fix their grief, but I can carry them with love and grace and compassion.
In one of the last scenes in the movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Frodo the Hobbit is exhausted from carrying the weight of the Ring of Power. He collapses on the side of the last hill before Mordor where he can destroy the Ring. His faithful friend Sam, full of rage against the Ring’s influence over Frodo, hoists Frodo onto his back and exclaims, “I can’t carry it! But I can carry you!”
We each walk our individual paths in this life, carrying our unique loads upon our backs. Yet, sometimes, we can be carried by those who walk alongside us. Living a hopeful, faith-infused life influences everyday actions. Sometimes, when we have no strength left, Jesus shows up in the form of a friend who prays or mows the lawn or cooks a meal or watches our kids. The lies that we are alone in this life, that no one understands us, and that we must face our troubles as solitary soldiers need to be burned out of our hearts and minds.
Edward Welch, in his book “Side by Side”, said it like this, “As the King goes, so go his people. He moves toward people; we move toward people.”
Coming close is exactly what Amy did that summer day years ago. She moved toward me, sat with me, fed me, and then helped me back on my feet again. We then scrabbled our way to the top where we posed triumphantly for the camera.
Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I see myself sitting alone on that hard boulder, wishing the moss would grow over me. I have no strength to fight and no will to keep shouldering the burden on my back.
Until, a whisper in my soul says, “Find refreshment in Me.” Then, a friendly face smiles at me, gentle hands embrace me, and a sweet voice cheers me up.
I stand, ready to fight some more.
I walk a few paces and find another weary traveler. I sit with her, give her a snack from my pack, tell her that she’s strong, and remind her that God is with us.
Then, together, we press on.
“When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until You come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.”
-Brendan Graham and Rolf Loveland