The sky glowed muted orange with the rising sun. The August air was seasonally cool. Nestled among hardwoods and sparse growing conifers, our group woke with rejuvenated excitement. Yesterday – our first day – was brutal. We marched twenty jubilant and slightly misdirected miles through the Teton Wilderness. I slept well. I woke terribly.
As the tent I shared with my wife brightened with leaf-filtered sunlight I laid death-still, gaze glued to the gray nylon canopy. My mind spun with scenarios. My stomach spun too. Like a hurricane. Even the thought of tossing a food vessel upon that acidic tempest was met with violent rejection. I rolled to my side…a tsunami of nausea. I tried sitting up. Houston, prepare for launch.
So there I was. Incapacitated in the starting blocks on day two of a life-long dream. If I couldn’t exit my tent without heaving last night’s noodles, how could I complete a full day of hiking? I worried. I fretted. Honestly, I was scared. Far away was the cupboard with saltines and the fridge with ginger ale. I longed for a couch on which to rest. And a TV on which to watch looping re-runs of I Love Lucy to distract me from my roiling gang of digestive cohorts.
I was in a pickle (burp). I couldn’t tough my way out or walk this off. Our group was on a mission, headed into purple mountain majesty. But in that moment, my mission was to stifle a techni-colored yawn.
I felt trapped. Backed into a corner. Pinned. I was emptied of self-generated solutions. There are no sick days on the trail. My intestinal hurricane swirled. What to do?
All I could think to do was submit. Relent. Assume a face-down, flat on the ground, ain’t got nothing to give posture of humility. So I did. I put all my schemes and needs and desires and hopes and fears on the proverbial table through passionate petitions to God. There was no deal making – just begging. Begging for mercy and healing and peace about my serious predicament. I didn’t schmooze with grandiose phrases or offer vapid platitudes. I spoke with respectful honesty to the Creator of my restless stomach. I chose to exchange fretting for faith.
Twenty minutes after “amen” I risked sending a small oatmeal scouting party into my gastronomical fury. The party telegraphed a neurological message: “the water’s great – come on down!” With my digestive sea calming, I spooned more oats. Swallowing cautiously, I wanted to grin at my wife. But that seemed presumptuous. Within the hour, my gut was happily churning a modest breakfast as our group – me included – walked and talked and visually gorged on bountiful vistas.
That’s my story. Nice and tidy with a happy ending. So what’s the point?
Well, that nauseating episode is one my go-to experiences. In my mind, miraculous as God granted me near-instant healing. It was a personal epiphany that broke through my self-constructed, egotistical, worrisome barricade to His grace. God flattened my pride with illness so I could listen more clearly. He rocked my gut to strengthen my faith. Taste of His power. And after our conversation, He blessed and released me, freshened with a deeper knowledge of Him – and me.
Yes, I had a mountaintop experience. But I’m choosing not to leave it there. I could retell my story for laughs or to reminisce. Yet those moments of panic and prayer and pleading and fretting grew me. And that growth must influence the ebb and flow of this day, too.
E.M. Bounds said, “Faith gives birth to prayer, and grows stronger, strikes deeper, rises higher, in the struggles and wrestlings of mighty petitioning.”* Helplessness has a way of uncloaking our masks and forcing us into naked vulnerability where we either trust more fully, or call everything a farce. I can testify there’s nothing farcical about the God who saw me through that uncertain day in the mountains. Who walks with me through today’s disappointments and tomorrow’s uncertainties. Who says, “fret not.” (Psalm 37)
*The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer, p.19