How to climb a mountain

Me at the top of one of the mountains (aka fells) in the Lake District of England.

I have climbed several mountains in my life.  Some of them were physical like Mount Katahdin in Maine or the Skiddaw fell in Keswick, England.  Other “mountains” I’ve climbed were more emotional or mental – but enormous just the same.  Both types were very real to me, the climber.   I have found that I enjoy climbing the mountains I choose to climb.  Ironically, those types are always physical.  The mountains I do not wish to climb have all been emotional or mental and I tend to procrastinate on every step.

I have come to learn that often times the physical things in this life point to deeper spiritual truths – if you have the eyes to see them.  I believe this is intentionally designed by God so we could better understand Him and His world.   He uses what we know to help us learn what we don’t.  He allows us to walk by sight before teaching us how to walk by faith.   He gives us a physical mountain to climb today so we can apply those principles to a coming emotional mountain tomorrow.   The size of the mountain is the most important thing to us.  The lessons we learn from the climb is what is most important to God.  We think about things like how long we will be on it.  His main concern is how well we learn the lessons.

As I have discovered first hand in my life, He has no shortage of mountains for me to climb.   Because of this, learning the lessons of the climb, suddenly, takes on a whole new importance to me.   Perhaps if I learn the lessons I’m supposed to on this mountain, the next mountain won’t feel so big or take so long.

Here is what I have learned (so far) in my vast experience as a seemingly perpetual “mountain” climber.  Maybe some of these truths will help you on your mountain, current or future.

  • Get started.   You can’t reach the summit until you have left the camp.  The camp is comfortable and easy.  The path to the summit is painful and difficult.  No one ever climbed a mountain sitting at base camp.   No one ever did anything significant from base camp.  It’s where we all begin but it’s not where we are supposed to stay.
This quote was hanging on the wall of the cafe I owned in Charlotte. It reminded me of the importance of getting started. (Visit “Quips Cafe Charlotte” on Facebook for more information.)
  • Mountain climbing is hard.   This seems elementary to mention but it is critical to remember.  It’s supposed to be hard.   It is supposed to take time.  You are supposed to sweat.   Know why?  BECAUSE IT IS A MOUNTAIN.  You will have to manage your pain and persevere through every step.  Understand that and expect a challenge.
  • Don’t let the size of the mountain overwhelm you.   When you are at base camp, looking at the summit can be daunting.  It seems so far away that you may begin to think you’ll never get there.  Its height can be so intimidating that you may wonder if you’ll ever make it to the top.  You must change your focus.  Instead of looking at the summit, set a closer more reasonable goal to reach first.   Divide the mountain into smaller sections and concentrate on the next section now.  On some of my emotional mountains, the summit seemed impossible to reach.  I had to walk “day by day” for months until the mountain became more managable to navigate.
  • Others have climbed this same mountain.   You have to remind yourself of this.  There is no physical mountain that has been left unclimbed.  And if someone else has made the ascent, so can you.   For the same reason, emotional mountains can be conquered too.   Whether your emotional mountain is recovering from a broken relationship, losing weight, getting out of debt, dealing with an addiction or struggling with the never ending mountain of finding a job – you can make the climb.  It might be trying to forgive someone who hurt you or harder yet, forgetting what they have done.  Maybe your mountain is trying to forgive yourself.  It won’t be easy – but climbing mountains never is.  You are not alone.  Take comfort in this fact with every step.
  • If possible, climb with a friend.  Mountain climbing is hard enough alone, if you can, have someone join you.  The advantages are many and barely need to be mentioned.  Having someone with you provides the following benefits: encouragement, companionship, motivation, accountability, assistance & memories – to name a few.   When you want to give up, your climbing friend can help you keep going.  When you are discouraged, a partner can encourage you to keep hiking.  When your backpack is too heavy to carry, your fellow sherpa can lighten your load for a season.   I guarantee there are many others on your same mountain right now.  Look around – find them and join them in their hike.
  • Embrace the mountain.   This may sound slightly sadistic but there is something magical that occurs when you embrace the mountain.   The only way you can overcome a fear of heights is to get on a ladder.  The only way to overcome a fear of snakes is to handle one.  Instead of avoiding or dreading your mountain, embrace it.  With mountain climbing, there is a strange comfort when you learn to take time to “smell the roses” on the trail.  Though the climb is difficult, there are still many blessings along the way.  They are, however, easy to miss if you’re not paying attention or too focused on the clouds to see the sun.   The easiest way to miss some of those blessings is to complain about your climb.  Remember, even when it’s raining the sun still shines.
  • The summit is worth the climb.   Ask any mountaineer who has reached the top.  In every mountain I have ever climbed, my body hurt like never before.  I was tired on every level.   And when I finally saw the view from the top – I immediately appreciated the cost of the climb.  It was TOTALLY worth it.  Ask any mother if the nine months of struggle was worth the experience of holding their precious child in their arms.   Ask Lebron James if his eight year climb to the top of his mountain was worth the blood, sweat and tears to reach the summit of World Championship.   If anything, the harder the climb the sweeter the view from the top.

Maybe your emotional mountain exists because you made some poor choices in your past.  Maybe your mountain was given to you because of someone else’s poor choices.  Perhaps it is no one’s fault and it’s just something you have to climb.

Get started.  Recognize it will be hard.  Don’t let the size of the mountain overwhelm you.  Remember, others have climbed it before you.  If you can, find someone to climb with.   While you are climbing, embrace the mountain.   The summit will be worth it, I promise.

The following verses in the book of Psalms helped me immensely as I have climbed (and continue to climb) my various mountains.   Perhaps they will encourage you as well on your journey.

In God’s hands are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also.” – Psalm 95:4

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven  and earth. He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121