When I look back at 2018, I picture myself at the summit of Mount Borah — the tallest point in the state of Idaho.
It was there, after four arduous hours of steep terrain, the biggest physical challenge of my life (and a formidable mental challenge, too) had its payoff as I reached the top with my climbing group. I held aloft the sign that said I’d made it, and looked out across the world.
The victory was sure. I’d done it. But the truth is, that was only half the battle. I had to get down safely, too. The next 3+ hours were knee-crushing, blister-making fury as I navigated the steep decline back to base camp.
Reaching the bottom was almost as satisfying as reaching the top. It was the culmination of our efforts. It was final proof of our endurance, commitment and, yes, safe passage. (There were certainly moments where that was in question.)
So many times we can focus on climbing to the top of the mountain. Whether it’s that job we always wanted, that achievement for which we’d been training, that relationship we’d pursued, the family about which we’d always dreamed, we stand at the top of the mountain, sign aloft, smiling and taking in the view.
I’ve heard that there are two ways to kill dreams:
- To never attain them.
- To attain them.
What do you do when dreams die? What do you do when you’ve reached the top (in big and small ways) and then realize you’ve got a downhill climb still to make?
Many of us think the hard work comes in the ascent, and completely ignore the natural rhythm of climbing mountains: up and down, ascent and descent, steps and slides.
I think for many of us — myself included for so long — we see life as a single mountain climb, moving uphill with endurance, hope and longing for that glorious day when we summit. But instead, I’ve found that life is a continuum of narrative, of climbing mountains and descending them, only to find the next one.
The point isn’t the summit or the base. It’s the experiences along the way. It’s the development of endurance, perseverance, bravery.
I think when we approach life like one big mountain climb, we’re caught off guard when there are steep descents. Hiking uphill is a lot different than stepping downhill. Scrambling looks different if you’re headed up versus headed down.
When we forget descent is a natural part of life, we straight up fall.
For me, 2018 was a year of learning this. It began with my being half-deaf as an ear infection turned explosive. It felt as if a comeback from the depression and hopelessness of 2017 was underway.
But then the rest of the year was punctuated by conflict and loss — in friendships, family situations, my professional career, and more than I care to list here. Loss and pain are great teachers if we’re willing to internalize their lessons.
There was also great blessing: I received incredible provision in my work life, maintained professional relationships in the music industry through new partnerships and new initiatives, and even ended the year with a renewed focus on personal growth and health. Not bad at all.
There are blessings in the downhill climb. There’s a song by Tauren Wells called “Hills and Valleys,” which really speaks to the fact that we never stay at the summit (and really, I don’t think we’re meant to!) — the valleys are always right there, too.
The good news is that we never really stay in either place for very long. That’s what makes this life a narrative — a story worth reading. It’s watching as characters overcome obstacles to obtain that which they’re after.
We just have to plant our feet accordingly. We have to know which way we’re headed. We have to realize that all the terrain is steep, either pointing our toes down or up. We have to walk with intention, knowing that both at the summit and the valley, there is victory. There is relief. There is hope. There is a story.
As I enter 2019, walking down a steep decline — clearly back in a valley season — this reminder is everything. There are more mountains ahead, but right now, I’m walking a different way. It all matters.
Summits feel better than pits, but they all have their purpose and value and plan.