“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
My mother is an identical twin and my father looks a lot like his brother. Growing up I have numerous stories of when I couldn’t keep them all straight from one another. When I was 8 I have a vivid memory of such a time.
I was with my Dad, his brother and my cousins. We were walking down an unknown wooded path towards a beach. I had never been in this place before and it all was confusing, I wondered constantly if we were actually lost and they weren’t telling me. In my fear and nervousness, I grabbed my Dad’s hand and walked along with him for a little while.
At one point, looking up to my Dad for further reassurance, I became quite startled. I hadn’t grabbed my Dad’s hand at all… it was his brother and I had been holding the wrong hand all along! Now I felt really anxious and just wanted to go home.
My Uncle had a good chuckle when he saw me realize my mistake. No harm was done and I recovered from my little error. This moment, though, is very vivid to me.
David had such moments constantly because he knew the human heart. In times of fear, distress, uncertainty and anxiety God designed the heart to grab the hand of the one we trust. This is all heart warming until we have those startling moments that the one we trust is not our good Father but false idols that learned to trust in times of ease, peace and safety.
In Psalm 121 David famously says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?”. David wasn’t just having a lovely moment of reflection on the beauty of the horizon. In David’s time, the tops of the hills was where all the temples to the idols sat.
The Old Testament repeats this ad nauseam, “Look to the hills, do you trust those idols or the God who made not only the hills but the wood those idols are made of?”. David reminds himself, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
The reality is, in times of distress and when we need help the most, this is when the idols of our heart are exposed. The human heart has a tendency to build idols in times of peace, prosperity and self-sufficiency. We discover what those idols are when we lose control of our lives.
God desires us to be free from idols. Not because he randomly is trying to punish us. Idols enslave, bring anxiety and cannot save. Shouldn’t we all want freedom from that?
“I life up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? The question of the hills is, “What or whom do you trust instead of the creator of the heavens and the earth?”
I know, for me, this global pandemic is revealing to me the idols of my heart that were hidden in better times. When we are anxious or fearful, it is the human instinct to reach up and grab the hand of the one we trust. Sometimes, though, we realize the hand we grabbed is not our good Father but a false imposter.
In this time of distress are you grabbing the hand of your father or do you realize there are other hands you grabbed? Are there other places you had trusted, that can’t really save or help? Realizing this is not a place of condemnation, it is a doorway to greater freedom.
What or whom do you trust instead of the creator of the heavens and the earth?
Additional Resource: Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon has a wealth of teachings and podcasts that I have benefitted from. In this season of the Covid-19 Pandemic they are doing a series called, “Bridgetown Daily“. Each podcast is a 10 minutes or less devotional with a daily meditation on scripture, a quote, or the life of a Saint to ground you in God and His peace. I would highly recommend it to you!
The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.
We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.
Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.
But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.
What if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.
This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?
Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!
But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.
What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.
I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.
Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.
What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?