The Pain of Descending

For four days this month, my wife and I backpacked through the Grand Canyon. It was one of the most epic adventures of our lives so far. The staggering cliff faces, the trifle-like layers of schist and sandstone, the bizarre peaks that looked like they were teetering on a knife's edge--everywhere we turned our eyes or pointed our camera shocked us with beauty. But if any of the days tempted us not to notice, it was the grueling descent. 

Everyday people often prefer walking downhill to walking uphill. It seems easier (if you're not going very far) and you can go faster. So most people I've told about the trip assumed the hardest days were the days coming back up the 4500 foot canyon.

But backpackers know different, and we novices discovered why. While hiking a steep incline can be a challenge for your muscles and cardio, a really steep decline with a thirty pound pack on your back can feel like it's crushing the cartilage in your knees. Going uphill, your body may or may not feel strong enough. Going downhill, your body may feel like it's going to break if your not careful. 

That's not all too different from descending into our own pain, our inner canyons of discomfort, perceived incompetence, or shame. Sometimes we think that the ascent will be harder...changing our routine, learning a new skill, working on our anger or addiction. And it can be challenging, no doubt. But if we're honest, it's the descent that scares us. It's the honesty, going all the way down, that feels like it might break us. Going down into the inner canyon of our lives--whether that means going to counseling, attending a twelve step program, admitting our weakness to our spouse, receiving well-intended critique at work, looking our financial situation fully in the face, or truly bearing our souls to God for the first time in a long time--that feels like uncertain footing with a heavy burden on our backs. It's some of the hardest work there is. It feels treacherous. And it's the fear of that descent that often keeps us from experiencing the wonders of the canyon. 

As a Christian, I believe that whatever kind of descent I'm facing, God is with me. If it's a descent into a place of deep shame, I know that God deeply loves me and is always moving toward me. If it's a descent into a valid critique of my abilities, I know that God's care for me is not based on how awesome I am but rather on the fact that I'm his child.  If it's a descent into facing financial or vocational challenges, I know that the One who has generously given me everything that's good in my life will provide. And if I'm afraid of breaking on the way down, I know my God has the power to heal what's broken and bring life even from death. 

I hope you'll be willing to brave whatever descent lies ahead of you knowing that your companion is the God of the Canyon.