From somewhere, somehow, comes the idea that things that are hard are wrong. Or that rough days are temporary and not “real” life. The crunch under my dirty tennis shoes, one more mile, that late night conversation with family, exhausted, and one more dish, one more mess, spilled milk, rivulets swirling with dust from unwashed floor. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I gaze at beautiful Instagram photos from mountain tops. The breath-snatching, far-reaching beauty in every direction, I am choosing to forget what it took to get there. The climb, the stumbling, the sharpness, the gasping for air, these things are real life. I’m in denial, I’m doubting, I’m missing out on the beauties of this life, when I focus on the perceived unfairness, the lie of the serene life I’m must be missing just beyond my grasp. Amy Carmichael, a beloved writer, put it this way, speaking on a verse from Ecclesiastes 8:8, The Holy Bible,
“No day, no hour, no minute when we can count on being out of the reach of the fiery darts. Greek fire, as the Crusaders called it, used to terrify them because it burned on the water. There was no escape from it. There is no escape for us from the Greek fire of the enemy of souls. We have never been promised such escape. ‘There is no furlough in war’. ‘If ye trust not surely ye cannot be trusted!’ If we let our hearts ask for what is not promised – furlough from war –; if we let ourselves wish for it; if the inmost thought in us longs for respite from the conditions of war, or wonders why they are what they are, or why they are so prolonged; then we are not trusting, and we cannot be trusted with the spoils of the battle – treasures for others.” * (emphasis mine)
Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree find each other and marry, Annie Dillard’s prose bringing their love to life in a Massachusetts town. Weary, sun-scorched, wandering, I chose The Maytrees off my small library shelf, because I have appreciated Dillard’s nonfiction. Half way through, my delight is drowning. Maytree is moving to Maine, with another local gal, Deary. No explanation, really. Just all of a sudden. This jarring twist to the narrative was clever, I suppose. But as I search for a foot hold, reaching one bloodied hand towards the next bit of rock to climb in my own marriage, my own pile of relationships, I wonder at those that quit. We exalt those that leave. We exalt those that change. What of those who keep at the same for their entire lives? What of those who “make mere loving their life’s work”*? Those mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who grapple with the mountain side so they can share the vista at the top.
I don’t have to fight this climb. I focus and bask in today’s work upward. I choose to be glad in the forward motion, be it icy rain on my face, warm sunshine flickering overhead, the cutting ropes around my waist, the pack pressed sweaty to my back. I’ve been given the gift of life. It’s not easy, acts of faith, this deep trust. Things worth fighting for are never easy, that breathtaking view that C.S. Lewis said was “higher up and further in”*. In contrast to the Maytrees, Olivia Dunn, in the movie, “The Magic of Ordinary Days”*, is dumbfounded at the love that Ray Singleton, his family, and neighbors, shower on her, a stranger, and her unplanned baby. The beauty of this story is that these people make a choice to love. They don’t reject, give up, or complain under the unfairness, inconvenience, or shame of taking on this steep, unfamiliar mountain. They keep climbing. Ray keeps reaching forward, quietly, faithfully loving, even when many would have long ago quit, left, or just needed “a change.” Isn’t that a picture of Jesus Christ? It wasn’t easy to die in relative obscurity. His life was full of hardship and hate. He didn’t sit around pinning and waiting for things to get easier. He went about His Father’s business, Love spilling from every bloody step He took. Hard isn’t wrong, it’s real. Hard is brave, trusting, and true. Hard brings us to those glorious mountain tops.
Thou Givest, They Gather, by Amy Carmichael, p.116-117
The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, p.122
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, p. 202
“The Magic of Ordinary Days” Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2005