By REBEKAH SHAFFER
The sun fell over us in floods, like warm yellow rain as we began the journey of a family hike. We walked almost as far into the woods as we were deep into this global crisis, both were challenging and yet filled with reward. Each one of us craved to be in space without walls, without a ceiling, and with fresh air to fill our lungs. We welcomed the rigor of the climb and rejoiced when the path turned downhill. And then in a valley, after descending a steep hill, we came upon a fallen rock and we wondered when it had fallen and rested there.
Could it have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years since it tumbled down the side of the mountain? It stood much larger than any of us and wider than we could see around. Its face was hidden by blankets of moss in shades of bright green. On top of the boulder was the smallest sapling, the offspring of a mighty mother tree, hoping to find growth in the shallow soil that laid on top.
In the name of challenge, the littlest in the family declared a quest to sit on top. With this declaration, we each took on the challenge. What we thought would be a simple task proved to be difficult, even painful, as each one of us failed in our attempts. But then, the sapling—yes, the sapling—appeared to be the logical object to take hold of in order to hoist ourselves on top.
The sapling was a deception, for although it looked dependable, it actually was not. Then the Lord whispered to my heart, “what is in your hand?” The object we were holding on to was false, weak, and shallow.
The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 40, says this:
“A voice says, ‘Cry!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)
There in the woods, God was nudging a family in quarantine, our hands already full, full of earthly things.
St. Augustine said it well in his Confessions: “But you are the life of souls, the life of lives, having life in Yourself, and never changing. You are the life of my soul” (3.6.10.). When God is all we hold on, we’ll see He is all we need. David knew this well when he cried out, “my soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Ps. 63:8) God calls us to release the temporal things and cling to that which is everlasting, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6:33).
The challenge was still before us; there must be another way to reach the top of the boulder. We realized that the best way to reach the top was by working together. We leaned hard onto one another’s shoulders and bore the weight of the climber. As a team, side by side, the goal was accomplished.
“Together,” He said. “Face the challenge together.” One by one a victory smile crossed each face as the challenge was accomplished. Without the shared load bearing, without the extra shoulders, without the encouragement of the lifter, none of us would have overcome the challenge.
In his first epistle, St. Peter refers to Isaiah’s words quoted above and adds, “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Earnestness is active—it is intense, like the strain of muscles bearing the weight of another. “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps 63:1) Walking out of the woods that day, we ached with accomplishment and stepped forward with more insight.
In rain and sun, the pandemic stands firm facing every Christian with challenge. And we are called to climb its hard reality daily. Let us look carefully to what we hold, letting go of temporal things that fail. Let us fill our hearts and hands with the things that belong to our God and let us work together, bearing one another’s weight when one of us needs help. In our Covenant School family, let us take hold of the things of God, things that are everlasting, and let us bear each other up through love and encouragement. Only together, and with God’s help, can we overcome this challenge.