June 10 - Where is your strength?

Where is your strength?

            My legs were aching and tired, every step was a struggle involving immense effort. Within my chest, a jackhammer had taken up residence, as my overworked heart pounded fast and furiously.

            I was breathless, forced to pause every few steps to allow my breathing to calm down. I clambered over a large rock, dragging myself on hands and knees onto the next level, taking care to balance myself under the weight of my backpack. To my left, a steep drop of several hundred feet and, to my right, a formidable incline to be scaled following a rough path.

Taking another pause for breathe, I looked up, and there, perched nonchalantly on a boulder the size of a small house, legs dangling freely, drinking water from a flask, was the figure of my son waiting patiently for me to catch up. He seemed to have barely broken sweat.

            The entire walk up this Munro had been punctuated by his pauses to allow me to catch him. I reflected ruefully on how roles had reversed with the passing of the years. Time was, when we lived and walked in Galloway, that I would spend time sitting waiting for him to catch me, allowing his small legs time to rest between bouts of climbing. Now, not only was I the slow one, but, as he waited for me, he found the energy to scale enormous boulders just for the sheer fun of it.

            I am not as fit as I used to be, and various injuries from years past return to haunt me.

            On our return home, I duly recorded our conquering of two of the Arrochar Alps in a notebook I keep for the purpose. It provides me with a written record of all my hillwalks, back to a solo climb of Cairnsmore, near Newton Stewart, on a freezing day in January 1996. I have an account of how long it took me, the route taken and other incidental information. The notebook is also a testimony to how much I have slowed. When I return to a previously climbed hill, I now know I will take longer than previous assaults. I am slower than I used to be, and getting slower.

            As I close my notebook, I become aware of putting my glasses back on. I used to be able to read with my glasses on, but with a more powerful prescription for my short-sightedness, this has become increasingly difficult. My eyes are not what they once were.

            I am sure many of you reading this will identify with the experience, if not the details. The ageing experience, whilst far from debilitating at my stage in life, is nonetheless very visible. There is a reason why sportsmen and women have short careers. The human body is subject to deterioration as an inevitable part of growing old. I now realise that I must make allowances for myself in ways that I never once did, both physically and mentally.

            As I pondered these things, a verse from the Psalmist came into my head:

            ‘The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

            This may also be translated:

            ‘The Lord is the strength of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’

            When our own resources have failed; when our own abilities are no longer sufficient; when we realise that our own ingenuity has reached its limits: where do we look? Perhaps we need to be taken to that very place, where the self is utterly defeated in order to grasp the glorious and reassuring implications of what the Psalmist tells us

            ‘The Lord is the strength of my life – of who shall I be afraid’

            Confidence can return, perspective restored, equilibrium attained, when we recognise where our true strength lies, and it is not in ourselves.

            It is not without significance that this same Psalm focuses on the importance of knowing God:

‘One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.’ (Ps 27:4)

            This entire Psalm, which begins with the affirmation about the source of our strength for the trials and defeats of life, is really about the importance of knowing God. It is in knowing God, and we do so in Christ, that we discover all the resources we need. Those resources are external to us. Those resources are more than sufficient.

            Do you believe that?

            Yours thoughtfully

            Martin Thomson

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