Several years ago, I went with some buddies on a camping trip to Mt. Yonah in north Georgia. One of the great things about going to this mountain is that it has a sheer faced cliff that the Army Rangers use for rappelling practice. Time it right, and you can see them in action!
The above photo depicts what is known as “Aussie-Style” repelling. It makes it possible for someone to multi-task as they do something crazy like jump off a perfectly good cliff. Military advantages include:
- getting quickly from point A to point B,
- seeing who is trying to shoot you,
- perhaps even shoot back at them, as a token of your displeasure.
Of course, if you survive the trip down, there is the all important issue of timing your landing. Since you are coming down face first, you must carefully control your rate of descent. Come in too fast and your face will always remember who won when it suddenly met the rock floor at the bottom of the cliff.
I witnessed a Ranger who had the misfortune of doing exactly this. Face down, he miscalculated and was still picking up speed when he hit the ground. The first point of impact being his nose, he hit the rock floor – hard.
Then an amazing thing happened. Using to his advantage the energy of his body compressing upon impact, he bounced back up off the ground, blood pouring from his broken nose. Then, in one motion, he threw his feet beneath him, righted himself, landed a second time correctly, and ended his recovery by saluting and shouting at the top of his lungs, “On the ground, sir!!!”
It was all great fun to witness. After all, my nose was never at risk. I would have been glad to have set up camp at the top of that cliff and watched the Rangers rappel off of it all day long. But God forbid that someone interfere with my carefully planned life by having the audacity to push me off the same cliff!
A wealthy businessman hosted a spectacular party in which he had filled his swimming pool with sharks, barracuda and other assorted dangerous fish. He announced to his guests that he would like to challenge any of them to try swimming across the pool, and that he would offer a prize of a home in the mountains or a share of his business to anyone who succeeded.
No sooner had he made the announcement than there was a splash and a man swam frantically across the infested waters and bounded up on the other side of the pool. The millionaire ran up to the dripping man and exclaimed, “That was a stunning performance. What prize do you want?”
The swimmer answered tersely, “Right now I really don’t care about the prize. I just want to find the guy who pushed me in!”
Personally, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who pushed me from the safety of my comfortable life into a stage IV terminal cancer-infested pool. On my way into the water, I have licked my wounds, descended into bitterness and depression and have been angry beyond belief, particularly at God.
Note that I wasn’t writing this blog back then. I was too busy hating God.
Someone has said if we are angry at God for thwarting our plans for our lives, it only shows that we loved our plans more than we loved God.
But something else has happened to me on this descent into suffering: while I have been upside down and falling fast, my life and what matters to me is being turned right side up.
I’m being taught that suffering is not an interruption of my life. It is an essential part of it; one that I must experience and embrace if my soul is going to learn to live well in dependence upon God in this broken world.
My suffering has taken me beyond my trust in my own ability to arrange for my own happiness. As I have been pushed off my cliff of safety, I have been given a great gift – the opportunity to transfer my trust from myself to the God who says, “When you pass through the waters . . . when you walk through the fire . . . I will be with you” – Isaiah 43:2.
Do you see the two things God promises us here? Suffering, in no uncertain terms, and the promise that, in its midst, He will always be with us. The heights and the depths.
Early in our marriage, Betsy and I read a poignant book, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. Upon finishing it, we made a vow to each other. In our youthful naivety, we said the joy would be worth the pain. We wanted nothing short of the heights and the depths of life.
Great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain….
If there were a choice—and he suspected there was
—a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths
and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way,
he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths….
the joy was worth the pain.
~ Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy.
God has been faithful (often to our chagrin) to hold us to this vow for almost 35 years now. It may sound crazy to you, but if the cost of loving and being loved and of knowing God and His love is a life of unexpected and unexplained suffering, then go ahead. You have my permission. Push me off the cliff.
Or better yet, I’ll just jump.
P.S. This blog post is being sent to you from my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. We own this place.