We came home last Saturday from family camp in the Adirondacks. This is the fourth year that we’ve spent a week of vacation there with two other families. Inevitably, it is one of the best weeks of the year.
Beside the beautiful view of the lake, the nightly campfires, the fantastic chapel speakers, we have always enjoyed the many sporting activities and competitions the camp offers. If I can brag just briefly, after having been dethroned last year by a seventy-something couple, Ryan and I are once again reigning mixed doubles tennis champions. (More accurately, we are co-champions, having decided to split the ice cream sundae gift certificates with another couple rather than play the second match of a double-elimination round). Sporting competitions, especially those with prizes, suit the sensibility of being a Michel. As Audrey, our oldest daughter has jokingly asked, “How do you spell Michel?”
This year was the second year that our older kids participated in outdoor rock climbing, the first that Ryan and I joined them. After we hiked out to the isolated spot where we would spend the afternoon climbing and had listened dutifully to the instructions of our belayers, I volunteered to go first in my group. I wasn’t nervous—until, of course, I was five feet above the ground and convinced there was no higher hold for my hand.
“I think I’m going to come down now,” I announced to Tessa, my twenty-something belayer. Winner, I was not.
“Really?” she asked gently. “That’s fine if that’s what you decide to do. But what do you think about having me talk you through this a little?”
On the one hand, I had the comfortable reassurances of midlife pragmatism. What did I have to prove? On the other hand, I nurtured the smallest inkling to put myself into Tessa’s hands, to let her voice guide me just a little further on.
“OK, sure. Talk me through this.”
She began calling up instructions.
There’s a small place right be your knee to put your feet.
Look a little to the right. See that small crevice? You could put your hand there.
Hoist yourself up like you are getting out of a pool.
I listened. And what I had assumed to be sheer rock face actually betrayed cracks, crevices, small openings for fingers and toes that hadn’t, at first glance, been visible. I made it to the top and touched, with surprising exhilaration, the very top of the rock face. Enthusiastically, I volunteered to do another climb.
This experience of rock-climbing, as metaphor for faith, is rather obvious. How many of us, five feet from the ground, decide to come down? We aren’t going to risk falling. We aren’t going endure the strain of our muscles for an uncertain end. We refuse to listen to the voices at our back, calling up instruction.
We’d rather have certainty on the ground than risk at the heights.
We’d rather have sight than blindness, even if it means staying put and getting nowhere.
Several days after the afternoon of climbing (which turned out to be, for me, the best day of camp), I was reading the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. I was immediately struck by the fact that upon meeting Jesus, what Saul got wasn’t sight but blindness; not clarity but confusion. Of course we have the advantage as readers to know that the blindness and clarity lasted a mere three days, but Saul did not have that knowledge. For all he knew, blindness was his now permanent condition.
As Saul learned, the journey of faith is lot like walking (and climbing) blind. This is, in fact, its most predictable condition. In reality, we shouldn’t really be surprised when God takes us up an unexpected rock face, which on the way up, seems to have no foothold. There would be no need to listen to his gentle, reassuring voice pointing out the cracks and crevices if we had a set of stairs in plain view. There would be no occasion for surrender and trust.
Faith begs the willingness to leave the certainty on the ground for the risk at the heights.
Faith begs us abide the seemingly permanent condition of temporary blindness for the wobbly promises of staying in motion.
Faith grows with strain and tension, even from the furnace of our own heart’s fear.
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Next week, I’m beginning a weekly guest series calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from across the internet to share their stories of home, and I hope you’ll come back, every Friday, to find them here.