Mountain Climbing

When Susan and I visited Zion National Park in Utah, we enjoyed many of the park’s splendid hikes. We were tempted by several other paths, but we adhered to the adage about discretion being the better part of valor. However, one hike that didn’t tempt us, not even one little bit, was the climb up to Angels Landing. It involves a stretch along a narrow ridge with a thousand-foot precipitous drop on both sides of the eighteen-inch-wide pathway. We prefer to see Angels Landing while gaping up at it from the valley floor. In other words, we don’t do heights.

I was therefore surprised at how absorbing I found a couple of episodes of an HBO production about mountain climbing that I saw on a recent airplane flight. It is called The Climb and features ten aspiring young climbers competing in a series of solo ascents of different rock faces at various exotic locales under the supervision of an experienced professional climber. Yes, it is yet another version of reality television. Of course, as the series progresses, those who fail to reach the top are jettisoned while the eventual winner (survivor) receives a substantial sum of money.

What was cleverly done was the intimate insight we were given into the emotions of each contestant before and after their climbs. We get to know them quite well. At one point, one of the girls, talking to the other climbers, declares, “It’s not about our bodies, it is all about here,” while tapping the side of her head meaningfully. She helped me realize something.

Most of the climbers who failed to reach the top did a lot of talking, mostly about their feelings. They constantly informed us of why they wanted to win, they kept up a running commentary telling us when they felt confident and when they felt fearful. Their incessant chatter was mostly about themselves and how they felt. By contrast, those who relentlessly drove themselves to the top of impossibly sheer cliffs, appearing to hang on by their fingernails and finding handholds in what appeared to be mirror-smooth rock, spoke very little. When they did talk to the camera, it was mostly about the mountain attracting them and about the particular challenges of each ascent.

Focusing on our feelings weakens our will. It really is as simple as that. I found it exhilarating to see HBO demonstrating such an important Biblical principle so vividly.

Abraham, whose vision continues to shape Western civilization until today, was subjected to several challenging trials. One of the first appears at the start of Genesis chapter 12. He is told to pick up, pack up, and pull out. God instructs him to head out on a dangerous journey of unknown length to a place, “that I will show you.”

Any modern account would be replete with descriptions of what Abraham felt. “With trepidation at possibly losing all he had built, Abraham nervously told his wife of their travel plans.” Yet not a word about Abraham’s feelings do we read. He merely does what he has to do.

Later he is told to circumcise. C’mon, really? At the age of ninety-nine, he must perform this delicate operation on himself. Contemporary fiction might put it this way: “With heart pounding, Abraham seized the scalpel while images of indescribable pain and a lost future flooded his mind.” No, none of that. He just did it.

Sometime later, Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac for whom he had waited so long. We don’t read that Abraham’s feelings ran from, “Oh no, this can’t be happening,” accompanying panicky palpitations of his heart to, “How will I continue to live?” You get the idea. Again, no report of his feelings, only his actions for which quite unbelievable doses of willpower were needed. They were there and available because he wasn’t focused inwardly on himself and his feelings.

I have told you of Abraham, but I could have told you the same thing showing you the lives of many other epoch-shaping individuals like Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Deborah, and so on. Whatever feelings they experienced, they were not fixated on them because the Bible relates none of that. Just their mission and actions. So, if you have a mission, stop focusing on your feelings. Doing so only dissipates your energies and weakens your will, just as it did for those climbers on HBO who did not make it to the top.

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