Have you ever had a “mountain-top” experience?
Have you ever been through an experience better described as a “valley low”?
In 2014, a 17 year-old Queensland girl, Alyssa Azar, was preparing an attempt to reach the peak of Mount Everest. While she was still at base camp the climb was aborted after 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche. In 2015 she returned to the mountain but was again thwarted when a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, and 3,218 people lost their lives.
In May 2016, the now 19 year-old became the youngest Australian to summit Mount Everest, in a feat of astounding tenacity and courage.
Personally, I’ve had two haunting mountain-top experiences. Once when I was exploring a mountain-side waterfall in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. After climbing and clambering, I ended up on the side of a cliff on a small ledge with the valley spread out hundreds of metres below me. My legs were shaking and I had become separated from my friends. Somehow I was able to find a way back up – my palms are sweating right now as I remember it! The other was on a recent trip to visit good friends who lead a church in Las Vegas. They took me to see the Grand Canyon – and what a breathtaking experience that is! In an attempt to get the perfect selfie I stood out on the ice and snow covered edge of the canyon. As I took the photo an older tourist came walking towards me on the same outcrop, selfie-stick in hand, but he slipped and tripped on the ice and came sliding towards me! That night I woke up continually with nightmares of him and his selfie-stick sending me hurtling off the edge.
Stories of mountain climbers have inspired people for generations. One of my personal favourites comes from NZ adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was famous for being the first to successfully scale Everest. After one failed attempt, Hillary was speaking at a banquet in London – behind the podium was a large photograph of Everest. It is said that Hillary turned, faced the photo and said, “Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return. And I will defeat you. Because you can’t get any bigger, but I can.”
A “mountain-top experience” is a metaphor for something wonderfully exhilarating, even destiny-defining in someone’s life. Preachers talk about “mountain-top” encounters with God, and in fact throughout the Bible great things did happen on the mountain-tops
- Moses received God’s Law on Mt Sinai
- Elijah saw a display of God’s power on Mt Carmel
- Elijah heard God’s voice on Mt Horeb
- Jesus was revealed in his glory with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration
People long for the mountain-tops of life. Mountain-tops are the like the highlights package of our lives, usually the parts shown on social media for everyone else to admire and be envious of! But the reality of life is that people aren’t always out on #datenightwithbae at a Michelin-star restaurant; or on holidays #whereyoudratherbe; or ticking items off their #bucketlist and #livingthedream.
Much more of life is spent on the plateaus, or clinging for dear life to a cliff face, or trying to find a way through a valley. If the highlights packages are the mountain-tops, the “reality grams” and bloopers are the valleys. Here’s a fact: every great mountain-top is preceded by a valley. Often a series of valleys. This is true both topographically AND metaphorically!
Part of climbing up a mountain is first climbing down into a valley. A valley takes you down first so that it can take you up the mountain, if you keep going. The valley isn’t the destination, but something to come through – as the Psalmist said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow…”
When you conceive a great dream for your future, it can be like looking across a landscape and seeing amazing mountain-tops, but you don’t/can’t see all the valleys between the peaks. We set out, expecting a great adventure of “onwards and upwards” only to be thrown into turmoil when we come to a valley of trouble, or disappointment, or loss, or pressure, or dry bones, or…
Having learnt some lessons in the valleys that I’ve encountered, I like to think of valleys as “upside down mountains.” That’s all they are – inverted mountains! I am convinced there is just as much (if not more) we can learn by becoming great valley-climbers, blazing a trail of inspiration and encouragement for all those who will inevitably face many valleys of their own.
Over this next series of posts, we’ll explore some of the various valleys found in the Bible that relate to all different parts of our lives, and see what gems of wisdom we can find along the way.