About 18 months ago, some friends and I walked up Snowdon.
This might not sound like a big deal, but for me, it was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done, mostly because I was completely unprepared.
I stupidly believed that if I regularly walked a mile on my treadmill each morning, I’d be fit enough to climb the highest mountain in Wales. The official Snowdon website said anyone who was ‘moderately fit’ could manage it. I reasoned I could run up two flights of stairs without losing my breath, and happily walk about 5km on a sunny day, so surely that fell into the category of ‘moderately’? It seems not.
The morning of the climb wasn’t too bad. Shimmering in my bright pink waterproof, I ploughed stoically through the car park and began the slow, ascending trudge uphill with the rest of the group. We walked on a steady incline through grey drizzle, for about 90 minutes and feeling surprisingly good about my brand new status as a mountain walker, I said, ‘oh, this isn’t too bad..does it get much steeper than this?’
Our instructor laughed and didn’t reply. I immediately suspected this was Not A Good Sign.
A short while later, we arrived at the base of the mountain. Wait? The base? No one told me I’d have to walk for nearly two hours before I’d even start. I naively thought we’d just have a gentle twist round the mountain, till we somehow got to the top.
But no, apparently, this was just the beginning and now, already wrecked from the 2 hour trek, I had to climb. Great.
I’ll freely admit I was the straggler of the group, lurking just a bit behind everyone else. Thankfully, one of the trainee instructors trudged along with a few of us at the back, no doubt to check that we were not about to fall. Or die.
About an hour in, I hit my wall. As I looked up, all I could see was endless mountain disappearing into the cloud. I had to keep going?? Every bit of me ached, my thigh muscles had seized up and I’d started fantasising about being airlifted from the mountain by hunky air ambulance crew.
‘I’ve hit the wall…I can’t keep going,’ I said.
‘Stop being silly…of course you can’, said instructor.
I glanced up again, staring in open-mouthed horror at the endless mountain face in front of me. Rain trickled off the end of my nose, my (allegedly) waterproof boots had started to leak and an endless chorus reverberated in my head. I can’t do this. I can’t.
Suddenly, the instructor was there again and looking at my miserable, soggy face, reminded me again: STOP looking up! Just put one foot in front of the other…and then another…and then another.
It struck me at the time that there was probably an amazing spiritual analogy/blog post in there somewhere, but I was way too exhausted to remotely care.
But yet, 18 months later, I still remember that moment vividly. STOP looking up! Just put one foot in front of the other…and then another…and then another.
Looking back now, I realise that in some circumstances of life, God does call us to look up, to look directly at him and in other situations, he just wants us to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and again and again, until eventually we see the top of the mountain bursting through the clouds.
I can’t even begin to tell you the emotion I felt when I finally saw the summit. Even as we approached, it was windy, rainy and so completely wet and miserable that I thought I’d never feel dry and warm again. And yet just as we got there, the rain and the clouds disappeared, the sun came out and we were able to see, really see what was ahead.
That simple statement, stop looking up kept me going at the time and through other tough times since.
And so if you’re staring at your own unmovable mountain and your boots are starting to leak, a few words from someone who’s done it too; don’t look up, don’t imagine how far you have to go. Don’t try to guess what lies ahead or what is beyond the cloud.
Trust the instructor, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, you’ll get there.
And when you do, it’ll be worth it.