The world is the Lord’s and everything in it. Subsequently, things that we observe in nature can teach us things about God and life. And as a part of that creation, we can learn things about ourselves as well. It is not a mystical worship of the creation itself. Rather, like the painting is an expression of the painter, God has made the world in such a way that its order, functions, and appearance all reveal things about himself.
It’s during the tough stuff when we often draw closest to God, keeping a more open ear and sensitive heart toward any wisdom or encouragement He may offer us. The verses found in Job, were during a most distressed part of his life. Sounding akin to an ancient Dr. Doolittle, Job declares: “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10
In April of 2016, at 50 years of age, my husband and I decided it was time for us to take a hike across Spain. Well, mostly my husband decided, but I wasn’t about to let him walk it alone. Our reasons and experiences are too many and deep to explain in a simple blog, but the very first lesson of my journey was probably the most memorable.
Our first leg took us from St. Jean Peid de Port, France to Roncevellas, Spain. It was 27 kilometers – roughly 16 miles. Sounds doable until you realize that takes you up one side of the Pyrenees Mountains and down the other. The day was pain-filled with hours of fatigue and regret interrupted by views of inexpressible beauty that gave way to emotional highs. This was the psychological roller coaster I would ride for the next 43 days.
That first day of getting over the Pyrenees was indeed the worst. My desperation was at an all-time high. About 1/3 of the way up, the air was a lot thinner. My legs became noodles. My lungs began to burn. And with every 20 steps of progress I would have to stop, turn around and face down hill in order to relieve the constant tension on my calf muscles. I stood there as waves of disappointment and self-loathing flooded over me. Chris was able to go a bit further between rests so our side by side words of encouragement for each other had come to an end. Each of us had to face our own independent struggle.
The adrenaline of the morning had waned and prayer began to fill the afternoon. Glimpses of awe inspiring valleys and wildlife were like wind in the sail that kept this old ship going. 50 yards… and rest. 10 yards… and rest. 15 more steps…and rest. Then climbing around the next bend only to see an even steeper incline ahead…and rest. At the height of my discouragement, I threw off my pack, laid my trekking poles down, and considered having myself a good cry. Chris and I had I kept visual of one another, but at my dreadfully slow pace I thought surely we would not make it off this mountain. The possibility of being stranded outside all night crept in my mind. But instead of crying, I prayed. I needed God to speak to me like never before.
As I sat there, over the ridge came a wild stallion. Several mares followed at a distance. The path was traveled by enough pilgrims, that these animals who claim the mountain were accustomed to us. They were quite docile and would come very close. Too close for Chris’ comfort, but almost in playful amusement at the little humans that traversed their lands. As I watched them, I noticed something striking. These enormous beasts of burden, with sweat dripping down their hind quarters, were making their way up the mountain in much the same way as I. This majestic stallion zig-zagged back and forth amongst the rocks, muscles bulging, for a distance of about 20 yards. He would stop, lift his flared nostrils high into the air and give several loud guttural snorts. Then turning a backward glance as though he was taking head count of his band behind him, he would rest a few more moments, lower his head again and press on for another 20 yards or so. He repeated this pattern over again and again. Back and forth across the stoney sod more or less mirroring my own struggle over the unforgiving terrain.
At that realization, a tremendous peace came over me. Even this ferociously strong animal, who navigates this mountain daily, was making his journey with the same plan of attack as I. Suddenly, I felt less incapable. I didn’t feel quite so much like the odd man out. This was how it was supposed to be. This is how we were made. It’s how great accomplishments are completed. Often slow and arduous, but always demanding rest along the way. My journey for the day was only half over at this point. But at the realization that things were indeed moving in a normal progression, the weight of defeat evaporated from my shoulders. I gained strength from simply knowing that God had indeed given me the ability to do this. The lies of Satan, that this was impossible, had no other recourse but to flee from my mind.
The descent into Roncevellas was long and seemed never-ending at times. My body traded burning calves for aching knees. But the image of the horses never left my mind. Much to our delight, Chris and I did make our destination before the sun disappeared completely.
Did God direct that mighty steed to purposefully intersect my path? How did God know at what exact point my frustration would set me down on the grass? Was that horse as keenly aware of me as I was of him? Moments of inspiration can give rise to questions for which there may be no answer. But one thing I did know for sure: “In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind”, and when we look upon the glory of God, it will teach us.