Monday, 20 January 2014

Climbing to get nowhere

I’m climbing. 

Hand over hand, trying to find footholds and holding on so tightly that my knuckles are white and my fingers hurting from gripping the cold metal.  I am halfway up a telecoms mast of some sort. It’s on the very top of a tall skyscraper, the part that reaches up beyond the concrete and glass almost into the clouds making the very highest point.  It’s an aerial, a mast to pick up a signal or something. It’s thin and sways in the wind – and there is quite a wind up here.

I’m afraid I’ll fall. I’m using the narrow rungs and handles that fearless maintenance men use, but I am not fearless; I am terribly afraid. My breath is coming in shudders and gasps and my progress is painfully slow as I have to check each cold, rusty handhold and foothold before I can raise a leg or an arm to get higher.

I know that if I fall, it’s a very, very long way down.

God is with me. He’s right there, and I know that He won’t let me fall, but this is not a comforting security as it was when we stepped through the door marked Fear and flew together miles above the earth. He is watching me carefully. He is on a level with me – I don’t know if He’s standing on thin air or floating somehow, but he is a few feet away, watching me as I struggle to climb the mast.

He isn’t pleased with me. He’s not angry, He’s sort of sad - He doesn’t like what I’m doing. He watches, protecting me, but He is not approving.  I know that He won’t let me fall, but He has withheld the sense of safety and peace from me.

I climb. Ragged breath, painful hands, cold against the rough and sharp edges of the metal. I have no gloves and insufficient clothes in the bitingly cold wind that threatens to blow me off.

I am high. I am almost at the highest point, the tip of the tallest building. The view should be breathtaking from up here, but I am so full of fear and looking for the next step, the next rung, that I cannot look around. It’s a technical climb and it takes all my concentration. I have climbed this high to see all that I could see, but now that I’m here, I am too preoccupied to take it in.

I am exhausted.

God is showing me that it’s a fruitless climb. I am as high as it’s possible to get climbing in my own strength up a man-made structure. I am as high as I can get and yet it is frightening, risky and unsatisfying. He will never leave me, but the enormous effort I am putting in to climb so high is ultimately fruitless.

With God I flew, high up in the clouds – much higher than this. Holding His hand I stepped through a door that frightened me, and with His arm around me I was no longer afraid. We flew, glided, soared, and it was effortless. It was exhilarating and the view was so, so beautiful. Time stopped still so that I could appreciate the sunlight glittering on water, birds flying in formation, fields in a patchwork of green and yellow. There was a gentle breeze, but it was cooling, refreshing.

I was free.

Contrast that with this. I am worn out and in pain, trapped on the mast. I am frustrated and afraid and so, so cold. Far from that feeling of weightlessness, I know that my own body weight is causing the thin tower to bend and I hug the mast close to me, fearful of the swaying movement of the metal.

The wind fills my ears with loud, distracting sound.  I worry that I couldn’t hear God’s voice up here even if He chose to speak to me, but He is silent. In any case, I am too preoccupied with holding on.

God is still there, just as He was when we flew together, but there is no joy in the way we relate to each other. He looks at me with sadness and concern in His eyes, and my glance is resentful; that He is watching but not helping me. In the sky, when I trusted Him completely, He looked at me with delight and we laughed together. Now, He seems resigned, disappointed.

My experience in the sky with the Lord God was characterized by freedom, joy, peace. A sense of space, of being able to breathe. Climbing on my own up the mast above a skyscraper I am terrified, vulnerable, hurting, and I cannot catch my breath. Up there, with Him, the clouds we sailed through were refreshing, stimulating. Here, on this tower, they are deadening. I feel suffocated.

He is showing me that when I am with Him, I can go so much higher than I can on my own. No matter how hard I try, how high I climb using my own energy, my own skill, my own strength, it will never bring me the satisfaction I want. On a man-made structure I will sway dangerously in the wind, I will hurt myself trying and still I won’t get very far. The view from up there will always be disappointing.

He will not leave me, but I will not see the things I long to see. I can only do that if trust His strong arm around my shoulders and hold tightly to His hand and go where He leads.

I cannot do it on my own.

I want to fly, free and effortless, with my God, not try and try to climb and wear myself out trying. I want the peace, the freedom, the breathtaking beauty of the view on His terms, not mine. I want to hold His hand, and when He is by my side, when I have His strength coursing through me, replacing my own flimsy courage with something perfect and invincible, I can do anything.

‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.’
Philippians 4:13

See also The door marked 'Fear', January 2014 for the one about flying with God.

Image credit:  Top_of_The_Rock_IMG|_6522.JPG by rose vita, courtesy of Used with permission.


  1. Helen, these images are so, so powerful. How often have I struggled in a climb that was fruitless and scary all because I wanted to do it independently! What a reminder that His way is best.
    P.S. You will feel like you're falling in your bifocals at first, but it will get better after a while! ;)

    1. Thanks, Ginger. I know that feeling well.

  2. Helen, how well you depict the vivid contrast between flying free with God and struggling painfully in our own limited strength. Such a word picture to alert us to how we are travelling. Is there Holy Spirit ease, grace and freedom or is there hard graft, stress and strain? Once we see how much we've veered away from God's best for us it becomes easier to rest in Him, lean on His strength, rely on His wisdom, and fly bold and free in the current of His grace. Lovely imagery and experience related here! Thank you :) xx


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