My family is comprised of “horse people,” so when we go on vacations, trail rides are often on the docket. I’m not big on riding in general, but I don’t mind it.
I’m usually on the old pony, the one who hopefully knows its way back home. I’m okay with this. In fact, I usually enjoy it! I don’t have to worry about snakes or rolling my ankle on a rock, and it’s just far enough out of my wheelhouse to make me feel adventurous without being adventurous. (My idea of adventure is reading Peter Pan.)
On one trip, though, I got more than I bargained for. This trail went through woods and open fields as well as up and down mountains. The mountains weren’t the Rockies, but they were high enough to make me just the slightest bit nervous.
As we wound our way up the first mountain, I noticed I was sort of tilting off to the left on my horse. I adjusted my posture, thinking that was the issue, and continued on. Then it happened again, and again. Each time I adjusted how I was sitting, I got a perfect view of the long drop down the side of the mountain. Gradually it became apparent that the saddle had not been tightened well enough; it was sliding toward the cliff each time a hoof hit the ground.
I began to panic. I couldn’t see any way this could end other than with me being hurled headlong down the mountainside. My breaths got shorter, and hot tears streamed down my face as I tried to keep shifting my weight to the right and the saddle horn kept moving to the left.
Through my sobbing, I heard the trail leader stop everyone and come back to me. I got off on the mountain side of the horse, he fixed the saddle, and on we went. Everyone else had a lovely time on that ride—both before and after my near-death experience—while I spent the first portion worried about falling and the latter worried even more about it.
I couldn’t enjoy the view or the journey because of the one frightening possibility of going over the edge.
Several weeks ago, I met with a good friend to talk about some things I’ve been going through. She and I were discussing our minds’ tendency to go back to dark places in our past whenever our present gets hard. I mentioned that it’s difficult for me to hope that life will get better when it only seems to be getting worse.
“But you don’t have to hope,” she said. “You only have to trust. God has said he will provide; just trust him.”
“That’s true, and I know that, but—”
“You will not fall back into that hole,” she insisted. “When we’re standing on a precipice looking down at the long drop, it’s easy to think falling is the only option. But there’s another way. You can turn around, reach for God’s hand, and keep climbing.”
Her speaking this truth caused a dramatic shift in my thinking. I understand now that my inclination in all of life is to do exactly what I did while on that trail ride: look down, see how far I’ve come, and panic that there’s no way out except into darkness. I become so narrowly focused on not falling into the canyon of despair that I forget my journey up the mountain isn’t over.
Psalm 30:3 (NLT) says, “You brought me up from the grave, O Lord. You kept me from falling into the pit of death.” I know I currently stand overlooking that pit, focusing on how dark it is down there and being terrified of going back. But God has brought me out and he will not allow me to return.
This is not to say the remainder of the climb is going to be smoothly paved with handrails, an abundance of shade, and lots of helpful signage. I know I will probably still feel as though I am slipping and scrambling and grasping for something to hold onto, and I’ll need to stop periodically to catch my breath. But I will not fall.
All I have to do is stop giving in to my fear, turn around, get back to the journey, and trust that God will be who he is.
Bethany Beams is a certified doula who can’t get enough of storytelling, which she pursues through website design, photography, and freelance editing. Her many loves include her son, napping, libraries, ice cream, singing, snow leopards, Bagel Bites, 75° weather, the color turquoise, and lists. She blogs very occasionally at bethanybeams.com.
Photograph © Leio Mclaren, used with permission