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.