Hiking has been at the top of my list of favorite outdoor activities for most of my life. There’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of traversing a rocky path to reach a peak and take in an awe-inspiring view!

So when my friend Sue invited me to join her on a week-long tour of Utah’s National Parks, there was no hesitation – I was in! After years of seeing photographs of the iconic mountains, canyons, and rock formations in this area, I was finally going to see them with my own eyes!

On the third day of our trip, we visited Canyonlands National Park and, after a mostly-flat rim hike in the morning, we set out on our second hike of the day – a steep but short climb to Upheaval Dome.

After just a couple minutes on the trail, though, I noticed a sharp pain in my left heel. A rock had somehow crept its way into my shoe. Ughh, how annoying!

The obvious thing to do at this point would have been to stop, sit down, take off my boot, and remove the pebble. However, on this very crowded trail, with less than one mile left to climb, that seemed unnecessary. So I wiggled my foot around a little, hoping it would find its way to a less painful location – and pressed on.

Unfortunately, with every step the pain increased and I just wanted to get to the end and get it over with! I didn’t care about the view or the rocks – all I could think about was the obviously very large, very sharp pebble digging into my foot.

Having a relationship with God can feel like an uphill battle – especially when it comes to sin patterns in our lives. As believers, we know that because of Christ our sin is forgiven, but that doesn’t mean it’s all going to magically disappear and stop happening. Most of us know exactly what Paul was talking about when he wrote in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

I know for me, there are days where my selfish, sinful nature seems like an unconquerable mountain, staring me in the face. I can agree with God that my sin is sin and I can believe that the Holy Spirit is hard at work in me, doing His thing, but there are many nights where I go to bed completely discouraged.

But recently, I ran across this quote:

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.”*

The mountains of our sin struggles can seem massive and overwhelming – but what if the mountains aren’t the problem? What if it’s the ‘pebbles’ instead?

If I’ve learned anything as a parent, I’ve learned that sometimes our behavior has less to do with the choices we make in the moment than it does the choices we made hours before. You don’t throw a temper tantrum when you’re four because you want to be bad, you do it because you haven’t gotten enough sleep, enough food, or because your expectation of the situation was unrealistic.

And the same is true with our sin. So much of our disobedience is rooted, not in us wanting to be ‘bad’ or to hurt ourselves or others, but in the “pebble-sized” choices we make that end up leaving us more vulnerable to temptation.

For example, we don’t get adequate sleep or make healthy eating choices – and yet we expect ourselves to be able to think clearly when a tempting situation presents itself. We fill up our to-do lists with impossible expectations and then can’t figure out why we keep yelling at our children when they cause an interruption in the schedule. We scroll though our screens for hours every day, filling our heads with loads of unnecessary images and information – and somehow think it won’t affect our thought patterns.

In Matthew 17, we find some of Jesus’ disciples at the foot of a mountain facing a mountain-sized obstacle. A man has brought his son to them for healing and no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to make it happen.

Jesus, in His great compassion steps in to heal the boy and then in His great wisdom, teaches them an important lesson:

The disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

OUCH! Was that an insult? Mustard seeds are small things. Very small things. So was Jesus saying they basically had no faith if it was smaller than a mustard seed?

Or was He saying that moving the mountains (which are huge things) takes place in tiny mustard-seed size steps. As humans we like to see ‘faith’ happen in the big change – the dramatic commitments and 180° turnarounds. But maybe God sees faith in a completely different way.

Maybe God sees true faith as something that happens in the very small. Maybe it’s those little unseen everyday moments that are actually the mountain-moving steps. Maybe removing that “pebble” is a bigger deal than we first thought.

When Sue and I reached the overlook at Upheaval Dome, I immediately sat down and pulled off my boot to get that pebble out. It turned out that this one wasn’t just inside my boot – it was all the way inside my sock, which is why it was causing so much pain! It certainly wasn’t a size problem:

And I certainly could have spared myself a lot of pain (and not missed out on the thrill of the hike) if I had just stopped way back at the beginning and done something about it.

What are your pebbles? Is it time to stop, sit down, and take them out? As our Moms’ Bible Study leader said last week, “Learn to be wise in the small stuff and the big stuff won’t seem so big.”**

The mountains of your sin may seem daunting, but maybe you’ll find they’re not really as big as you thought they were after all.

*Author Unknown
**Tracey Paradis

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​Two years ago, Tim and I made what we think might be our best purchase ever – a 1998 Starcraft Venture Pop-Up Camper. We call it our “Home Away From Home” and we love every night we get to spend in it! At almost 20 years old, though, this well-used (and well-loved!) camper is a bit of an undertaking to set up – especially in the dark.

Which is what we were attempting to do on our first camping trip of summer 2016. Having arrived at the Delaware Water Gap KOA after 9pm, we knew we would be setting up after dark – but we were up for the challenge!

At one point, as we were wrapping up the process, Tim said to me, “Mandy, can you come over here?” He sounded really concerned. And I was really concerned because if you know Tim, you know that him being “concerned” about anything is really rare!

I walked over to the side of the camper he was on and he said to me, “Run your hand along this aluminum edging.” Before I even touched it I got a shock in my hand (OW!) and then when I actually did touch it, I could feel a vibration.

This was very strange, so we began walking around the camper, touching all the metal edges (Really, it seemed like a good idea at the time!) And yes, every time you touched any of the aluminum rims of the camper, you would get a shock and then feel a vibration.

At this point, panic was setting in. Our camper was somehow producing electricity and we were supposed to sleep in there! This couldn’t be safe! The mom in me was like, “There’s no way I’m letting my kids sleep in this camper tonight!”

Unfortunately, though, we didn’t have much of a choice. So we began looking all around, above, and underneath the camper for some sort of answer. Tim even asked one of our neighbors to come over and see if he could feel it, too – you know, just to make sure we weren’t losing our minds.

“Nah, I don’t feel anything,” the man said. And as he walked away, I said to Tim, “That’s it. We are officially crazy. We are your crazy campground neighbors who pull in late at night and believe their camper is mysteriously vibrating! We need help.

We all need help. We might not need it all the time and some of us might need more than others, but we all need help. Sometimes we need practical help – none of us are super-people and that extra hand or wisdom-filled guidance from someone who’s done it before can be life- (or sanity) saving.

But more often than we like to admit, we need real help. We are humans living in a broken world filled with other humans, so problems are a guarantee! Our struggles may look different, but everyone has them.

The question is: When you have problems, where are you looking for help? When a struggle rears its ugly head in your life, what’s your gut reaction – where do you go first?

We have four options:

1) Look inside yourself. This is everything we’ve ever been taught in Disney movies, music lyrics, and in social media quotes – “The strength is within you! The answers you seek are within yourself! You are strong! You can handle this!”

2) Look to other people. If you’re like me, your first reaction when you are upset or stressed is a dire need to tell someone about it. Most of the time you just need someone to listen to your rambling – and sometimes you really do need some advice.

3) Look to stuff. This one, unfortunately, is the number one “gut instinct” for most of us, even if we don’t realize it. Social media, games, Netflix, food, alcohol, drugs – you name it. I know my phone is a wonderful little distraction – when my eyes are on that screen I can forget about whatever it is I don’t really want to be thinking about!

4) Look up. The last option is to look outside of yourself, outside of other people, outside of this world, and do what David did in Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

God is not only all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful – He’s also deeply interested in helping us. He’s deeply interested in being your source of help. He’s just waiting for you to look up to Him. Looking down inside yourself, looking to others, or looking to stuff may be good options, but they’re not what’s best. The best and most helpful first thing we can do when we’re struggling is look up to God – and to make looking to Him become our gut instinct.

When Tim and I were trying to figure out our camper mystery, we had done all those things. We looked within the camper, we looked around the camper, and we asked someone else for help – but nothing was working. The thing is, we should have looked UP first! Because, as we found out later that night, our campsite was located under these:

There was so much electricity moving through those lines, we could hear it! With that much power directly above us, no wonder our old aluminum-rimmed camper was picking up some of the current!

Everyone has problems, but not everyone looks up to find the power that will truly help them. God has unlimited power to help you with everything – from the smallest of your daily worries – to the deepest of your issues – even issues that you don’t even know exist yet!

The truth is that the root of all of our problems is sin – not because we deliberately want to cause ourselves and others pain – but because instead of looking to God to be our help, we’re constantly looking to other things. We sin because we think it will help us feel better, look better, or be better.

But there’s good news because 2,000 years ago, God Himself put on human flesh and came to help. He willingly gave His life, dying a punishment kind of death to save us from ourselves.

Criminals in that time and place were hung up high – on crosses on hills – because their death was meant to be a visible warning to others. They wanted people to look up at Jesus and fear – but what they didn’t know was that looking up to Jesus on that cross would be the greatest rescue and the greatest healing and the greatest help in the history of the mankind.

Have you come to the end of yourself? Have you exhausted all other options and realized He is the only answer? And if so, is looking up to Him your gut instinct every time life gives you a shock? God is available and He’s got plenty of power to offer – so look up!