Dear Hyde Park Family,
Last week, I returned from spending a few days in San Diego, where my older daughter Grace is a junior at San Diego State. My younger daughter Madelyn flew over from Washington, D.C., giving the three of us a fun time to reconnect.
One day, Maddy and I decided to hike up Cowles Mountain, the highest elevation in San Diego County. It is a 1.5-mile trail that ascends 940 feet above sea level. By the time we got to the top, our smart watches told us we climbed the equivalent of 62 flights of stairs. Though the trail was clearly marked, it was filled with stony, uneven terrain, making for a cautious hike the entire way up. Here is a picture of one of the steep, rocky inclines:
Along the 45-minute walk up, there was a lot of time to ponder. And that meant time for this preacher to connect the hike with the experiences of life.
UPHILL AND DOWNHILL MOMENTS
Life is filled with highs and lows, mountains to climb and valleys to descend. We’ve all experienced both. Uphill climbs are hard, as we navigate steep grades of struggle and suffering, and every step is a challenge. You may be going through such a time now.
Then we have better moments, over the top moments, when life feels like a downhill cruise full of freedom and joy.
But here’s the thing: often, it feels like both at the same time. Most moments can feel like an indistinguishable combination of both highs and lows. Struggling in some areas, liberated in others. That may be where you are right now, uphill and downhill, all at once.
And maybe that ambiguity is okay. Both the uphill and downhill moments offer us spiritual wisdom.
GRACE IN THE UPHILL
As I climbed Cowles Mountain, it was obvious what a chore it was. My legs burned, my feet became sore, my back and shoulders began to ache. But because each step was treacherous, the uphill climb forced me to slow my pace, walk with intentionality, and be more mindful of each moment.
Uphill climbs, as hard as they are, prompt keener awareness, focus and clarity, and a greater appreciation of sites we might otherwise speed past. You also exercise muscles that can be made stronger for the long haul. Going uphill might seem laborious, but it has its redemptive qualities. It is tough, but it is good.
GRACE IN THE DOWNHILL
Walking downhill was a different story altogether! There was greater enthusiasm and energy, as Maddy and I believed that the worst was over. Our pace quickened; each step felt lighter.
But we discovered that going downhill also has its challenges. The walk might have felt easier, but the need to focus was even greater. We had to watch our feet to avoid even a slight misstep that could lead to a tumble. The wear of Maddy’s soles was more noticeable, and she slipped much more often going down than on the way up. At one point, she mused, “I think gravity can be both friend and foe.”
Downhill moments might feel more joyful, but they still require awareness. We have to be even more mindful of slowing down when life is going well, so that we can savor and be present to each moment.
GRACE IN EVERY MOMENT
There is both grace and caution in every moment of life, whether it is an incline, a decline, or most often, a combination of the two. We discover that a secret to a grounded life, one that is centered in Christ, is one that refrains from letting our highs get too high, or our lows from getting too low. Each moment brings reasons for gratitude, discipline, reflection, patience, and joy.
By the time Maddy and I got down the hill and headed for our car, there was relief and a sense of pride in our accomplishment. There was also gratitude that we were able to experience it together, and that neither of us were alone.
And neither are you.
Grace and Peace,