Mountain Climbing, Fatherhood and Suffering

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June 16th, 2013

My favorite part about the summer so far has been the opportunity to get back into hiking. "Climbing" might be a more appropriate descriptor of the hikes we've done so far. It is exhilarating to be in nature, thousands of feet above sea level, slowly but surely placing one foot ahead of the other on a grueling ascent. The best / worst part about hiking is that getting to the top is only 50% completion. Portland is an amazing place for hiking. That plus the local craft beer at the end of the day goes a long way towards convincing me that Portland is one of the greatest places to live in the world.

Climbing a mountain is hard. Really hard. Mentally and physically. I hesitate to use the word "fun" to describe the hikes we've done, as my body hates me for about a week after. I've learned that I've seriously neglected my legs in my exercise routines over the last several years. Yet for some reason, I keep coming back for more. I guess I'm a bit of a masochist in this context. The views of the Columbia River Gorge and the various mountains of the Pacific Northwest go a long way toward motivating me.

We had a particularly killer hike a week or so ago on Mt. Defiance, the highest point in the Gorge. It is comparable to summiting Mt. Hood in terms of distance and elevation gain. One of my mountain-climbing friends remarked that it is harder than Mt. Hood, in his experience. The difficulty comes from the distance, especially on the way down. I've nicknamed end it "The Horror without End." It challenged every ligament in my body and every stray thought in my mind. It was, in a word, brutal, and when I was on that mountain, I wanted nothing more than to be off it.

I had the unfortunate joy of being required to play drums early the next morning. I pondered the hike as I drove to church. Despite the resentment I felt towards that mountain the previous day, that morning I was able to dwell on the sights I'd seen. I was able to consider the definition and shape my legs have changed into. I was able to relish the challenge I had embraced and the accomplishment I had completed. I wouldn't trade that experience, and I was (irrationally) ready to do it again.

I think the idea of suffering bears a number of similarities to climbing a mountain. Sometimes life has an air of brutality, where all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, not sure where and when rest and reprieve will finally greet you. Sometimes you think you've faced the worst but come to realize that you're only halfway, that you still have a long way to go until you exit pain, discomfort and heartbreak. Even when you've made it through, you bear the scars and aches until healing is complete.

And yet...suffering is what leads us into new life, new maturity, deeper character and greater love. In God's economy, suffering, if used for greater purposes, carries us forward. James writes:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This is not forward looking statement. It's not about eventual joy in heaven, it's a call to allow God to refine and shape you right now. It doesn't make any sort of rational sense, but suffering is where we can find deep joy and eternal peace. It shapes us and changes us. I could have called it quits on Mt. Defiance. Thrown in the towel. Radioed for the airlift. Forced my comrades to carry me to the bottom. Instead I turned into my hardship, to sow an investment to be reaped later.

There are few constants in life. One is that suffering is guaranteed. For me, in recent times suffering has looked like deep and difficult anxiety. I'm learning that I am simply an anxious person, that it in many ways is a side effect of my personality. Sometimes, my anxiety appears noble. I've become much more anxious since becoming a husband and a father. I worry about my family and the responsibilities that God has entrusted to me. Other times, my anxiety is baseless and irrational, such as fearing the unknown, what could or might happen. Our current culture certainly doesn't help us out in that regard. I think hitting the 30-year milestone has given me my first real taste of mortality, the realization that I'm a finite person, and that while my hope is Christ, I'm fearful of death.

A number of years ago, I heard a not-so-helpful sermon about anxiety, and how being anxious was breaking direct Biblical commandments. I've lived in that for a number of years, feeling anxious, then feeling guilty for feeling anxious, and then feeling more anxious. It's a vicious cycle. Throw on top of that the doom and gloom of popular media, the loss of a job or a broken leg and the realization of the fragility and shortness of life, and you've got a recipe for crushing hopelessness.

Lately, with the help of a treasured friend, I've been re-framing God's commands about anxiety, from "Do not be anxious" to "You need not be anxious". What a breath of life that has been to me! I've moved from worrying about doing to simply being, from trying not to break commandments to resting in God's great love, sovereignty and immanence. I'm trusting what the Bible says to me about fear, I'm spending more time in intentional prayer and soaking in the truth of God's sovereignty. I'm finding in freedom in exploring and following the trails of my anxieties and confessing the idols I find at their roots. I'm discovering relief by openly talking about my fears with people I trust, and learning that my story is at all uncommon.

As I reflect as a father and a husband today, I'm so thankful for the blessing of my wife and my daughter. I'm so thankful for the way that we as a family have ordered our life, the things we prioritize and the directions we move in. That doesn't mean we don't suffer; what it means is that there's another constant in the universe: God is fundamentally and truthfully good. It doesn't make any kind of sense, but I want to be a person who presses into suffering, who engages it, and who allows God to do something in me and through me when the flood waters rise. I hope you'll also answer the call of suffering.

This song came up on random shuffle on my iPod this morning, and it's incredible pertinent. There's no such thing as coincidence. :)



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PMasta says...

I think, at this point, you might be close to the only reader (aside from Mom, of course).

But that's good enough for me. :)

Posted June 23rd, 2013 @ 11:17 PM

Ciara says...

I appreciate you writing this out; for those of us who love you it allows a window into your mind and heart. Even though I often don't understand, I still praise God for creating you with a drive to act responsibly, protect your family, and be future-minded/goal-oriented. These things make you a great dad and husband, even if one of the downsides is a greater level of anxiety.

Whenever I pray for you, I pray that you would rest in God's love and provision and cast off (as in 1 Peter 5:7) the doubt and anxiety about the things you can't control.

I love you and love to read on here about the ways you are growing and learning about yourself.

Posted June 23rd, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

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