In my early teens, my friend and I traveled behind the mountain I lived next to and made a trip to the Mormon Rocks. We loaded up my buddy’s red Toyota truck with cantinas, sneakers, snacks, and a large dose of bravado as well. There was something missing from our list though… ropes.
The particular face we decided to scale that day was an intermediate climb in the area called Devil’s Punchbowl. We were brave, strong, ignorant and quite naïve at that age. Now, we had NO business attempting that climb. Neither of us were trained, nor did we know the proper procedures for “in case of emergency” situations. Both of us were willing to exchange safety for what ended up being a humbling and scary experience…but male machismo knows no limits.
We got out of the car and drank in the view. The area is quite breathtaking. Large sandstone rocks just erupt out of the earth like they are subterranean prisoners looking for freedom. There are so many surfaces to climb that it is almost too difficult to pick just one. But, we set our sights on that intermediate face.
To get to the climb, you have to hike a trail that spirals downward into the “bowl”. When you are at the bottom, the topography seems to change from earthly to something you would see in a Science Fiction movie. Therefore, as one looks upward at the face of the sandstone rock, your mind immediately starts to send out “danger” messages to you; ones that you should heed.
Well, as the two, strong bucks that we were, we both made the choice to ignore internal warnings; while common sense began to toll its bell loudly in our ears. Before one sneaker touched the surface of that rock, a decision to stop; to not make this climb today, to wait until we had practice and proper training, could have been made. Even the brashest of folk would have found that logic prudent. Testosterone and pride coursed through our veins, so I hiked up my leg and found a foothold and waited for my friend to climb aboard as well.
The forecast said the area would be very hot and it hit the mark dead on. Sweat dripped into my eyes and we both heaved our young bodies upward step by step. After a while into the climb, there was an outcropping that jutted at a right angle to the face blocking our path skyward. This little bump in the rock became like a Chinese puzzle box placed right in God’s Backyard. I was above my friend about 10-15 feet and from either angle we looked at that outcropping, we just couldn’t figure out what to do next. We had quite a conundrum on our hands; go back down and take a hit to our pride, or push past this obstacle and let the chips fall where they may.
As I am sure you have figured out by now, the two impetuous young men tried to force a solution and “Man’d up”. Not wanting to let a chunk of rock stand in my way, I swung myself around the sandstone protrusion and miscalculated the distance to the other side. My hand had no purchase. Falling… I accelerated downward and my body slid across the rock face directly above my friend. It really does happen, all that others before me have spoken; you know, the whole “life flashing before one’s eyes” thing. When you are instantaneously slapped in the face with imminent danger, coupled by the knowledge that you have made a colossal mistake, fear grips you.
My mind raced to thoughts of the grief my family and friends would feel if I died today. The sadness of the waste of a Godly life seemed to clamp down upon my heart in such a brief moment. Then, out of nowhere, my friend below me, somehow had a hold of me in what must have looked like a very strange and inverted position. As my friend sat me down upon the ledge he was standing on, I could swear I was having a heart attack because the beating of my chest was out of control. My buddy glanced at my eyes and we exchanged an unsaid thank you. Mine was to the Lord for using my pal to keep me from falling; his prayer was solely to the Almighty for not being put in an elevated position, watching his friend fall to what would certainly be my death. He glanced at my chest and I looked downward at it with him.
The front of my torso was speckled with stippled blood and abrasions from sliding down the coarse rock. Regret was filling up my mental cup to overflowing, as I evaluated where I had went wrong. I let pride, the social pressures of being a “man”, and stubbornness make my decision to climb a face I wasn’t qualified to attempt.
I am writing this post today because I was recounting this experience a couple of days ago. God allowed me to evaluate this entire situation in my human mind. I was looking at the whole thing from every possible angle and nuance until I had reached what I thought was a solid logical conclusion. What I was shocked to find out was; my assessment of what I was to learn from this long ago life lesson, was not what God had for me!
Pride, and my mistake of succumbing to it, was the conclusion I had landed on; and I felt very mature to arrive at that denouement. Nope…Missed the mark again. God’s word to me was this. Pride is part of the fall of man and you will make mistakes. This is why Jesus had to come and die for all mankind’s sins. God’s question to me was this: “How far are you going to fall?” His message was very simple. Why do I wait so long to call out to him for his help, knowledge, wisdom, hope and truth? Thud…my mouth gaped open and hit the floor. I had not even accounted for this in my original assessment of my climbing debacle. Once again, as it has happened so many times before, God showed why he is qualified to run my life and …why I am NOT.
Backwards I went in my mind; I wanted to know what I had missed about that day. I found that I had not seen the many opportunities to avoid this situation in the first place. I missed the cues when we arrived in the parking lot; when we hiked down into the bowl, and before I put one sneaker on the rock face. But the most troubling thing that I have to deal with is; that I wouldn’t ask for help when I got myself stuck.
Over and over again, the Lord’s question to me rolled around in my head. I couldn’t shake it. “How far are you going to fall?” What is my answer to my Lord? Is there a reply that I could be honest with myself about? I don’t know what it is about us, about myself, that delays my response to my Lord asking for wisdom, strength and help? I do know this; that in the future, I have a choice to call out in the beginning, in the middle and whenever I get stuck, to a God waiting for me.
From now on, whenever I might feel my footing is beginning to slip, I will reach up and grab the Lord’s hand, pinky, or even fingernail, for God is in the redemption business; and business is good.
Here is a verse to ponder while reading this poem: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:5(ESV)
The poem below is an emotional introspection of the condition of our hearts and how important it is to give it all to God; every crevice of it.
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How Far Are You Going To Fall?
by Chris T.
What is it about us that causes our unceasing restlessness,
The way we vacillate to and fro,
From grace to bondage and back again?
Why do we spend time in the Light,
Only to purposely turn the switch back to off?
When will the double-mind cease and become steady,
With a footing firm and unshakable?
How can we gaze into the caring eyes of Jesus,
Only to break that eye contact and to look away,
At something shiny, new, enticing and filled with death?
Oh, the many reasons my adulterous heart,
Finds excuse after excuse to run and abandon,
The gentle safety of his immovable hand.
And over the years, time and time again,
I have driven many a nail,
With the hammer of my sin,
Into the perfect body of my Savior.
Yes, I know that Grace abounds,
I am aware that I’m forgiven right and true,
But, when do I remember the lesson of Hosea;
Recalling the depths of God’s love for me?
He will tolerate no rivals.
Can we all reason together?
Will you be willing to come back,
To the one who loved us first?
I believe if we keep our eyes fixed,
Upon the face of Jesus and to ignore,
The distractions of this world and,
A wandering heart that pulls away.
We’ll never again have to answer the question,
The one that cuts deep to the heart,
A query that should never be spoke as to,
“How far are you going to fall?”