Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Angels Landing

I’m afraid of heights. I don’t know why but looking down from very high places has always troubled me. On one particular excursion to the state capitol, my Dad had to carry me up the front steps because I was certain I would fall to my death otherwise. Perhaps it had something to do with being pushed head first off of a stage when I was little. All the same, I have just learned to admit my fear.

A year ago I was invited to go with some young college students to Zion National Park in Utah. It was autumn and the intense summer heat was no longer present. I accepted the invitation, not knowing much about the hike they were planning.

The trail they had in mind, Angels Landing, was supposedly fairly short with an incredible view. The red rock cliffs were beautiful from below. They were so grand and tall that I hadn’t even considered we might attempt to climb them.

Half way up the trail my heart started to pound. We had just left safe inclines and protective cliffs at our sides for a terrifying view of the remainder of the trail. It was breathtaking on more than one point. I recognized that we were about to cross the top of the precipice I had been admiring from below. What I didn’t know before was that the top was really a narrow land bridge. It seemed to be about four feet wide with a 1,400 foot sheer drop on either side.

Suddenly an old adage came to mind. “Fools walk where angles fear to tread.” Yeah, I know - lot’s of people were hiking it, but it still looked foolish. Walking on a tightrope always seemed insane too. Just then a young mother with a small baby strapped on her back came bouncing across like a mountain goat. She seemed completely unaware that there was a life-threatening cliff ready to gobble her up with her progeny. I made no effort to tell her. I just watched with a strange mixture of admiration and contempt.

As the rest of my party started to pass me on the trail, I found myself faced with a difficult decision. “Should I risk my life or just wait here where it is safe?” I considered, debated, and rationalized. This was one time that I wanted to listen to the voice in my head – afraid as it was. But another part of me wanted to see the top. “You will never know what it was like if you don’t go.”

More people passed me in my state of indecision. I took comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one negotiating my fears. A number of people had simply sat down, content to watch the others commit suicide. In failing to make a decision, I was deciding to become one of the bystanders.

Finally a thought gripped me harder than my fear. I believed that I could not make it, but did I know? How could I know unless I had tried? If I gave up, certainly I would be safe. On the other hand, nothing prevented me from going a little further. Even if I couldn’t make it all the way to the top, I could do a little more. It was at that point that my mind became clearer. I wouldn’t stop unless something stopped me. I would do as much as I possibly could before I gave up.

The land bridge had a chain rail to hold onto, which I did desperately. After that, the top of the bridge widened and had no chain. I found myself doing a sort of crab walk with my back to the ground. I went a little further then a little further.

After I had crossed the bridge, I faced my next obstacle. At that point the trail went almost vertical with additional chains to hold onto in order to manage the ascent. I again swallowed my fear and began to climb. It wasn’t easy to block out my awareness of the drop below. The key was to keep moving. As long as I was moving I could focus on my footing rather than my fear.

Making it to the top was an amazing accomplishment. My fears kept me pretty low to the ground, but what an amazing sight lay before me! I could never imagine it had I not gone the length of the trail. It wasn’t only what I saw, but what I felt that thrilled me. I had conquered my fears.

I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I had offered a number of prayers along the way. Father heard me. He gave me the courage to keep going. Even more than courage, He gave me a feeling of persistence that kept me from quitting. Of the two, I think the latter played a greater role.

There are many parts of life that are strait and narrow. Others seem steep and treacherous. Sometimes my challenges seem too difficult to negotiate or too big to tackle. I am grateful for the occasional reminder from the spirit that I am the offspring of God. He is my father. That simple thought gives me courage to try things that seem impossible, especially if I know he is the one asking me.

No one is perfect, but I have a lot more confidence when I know I have done everything I possibly can. I know that Father will help us through difficult times if we seek Him. As the angel, Gabriel, told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I believe this to be especially true in our attempts to overcome our sins and weaknesses. Some may be excruciatingly difficult to attempt, but we can repent through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He has already paid the price. It’s up to us to begin the climb.

I don’t think I will ever forget Angels Landing. In addition, I have a better mental image of the reward that is waiting if I can ignore my fears and keep going.

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