For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God Who raises the dead; He delivered us form so deadly a peril, and He will deliver us; on Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.
II Corinthians 1:8-11 (5th Epistle)
Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is a place that fascinates me. No, I have no desire to climb it. I’m out of shape, don’t like the cold, and can’t see risking my life on any kind of adventure. However, I enjoy reading books and watching documentaries on Mount Everest.
Once one gets up about 25,000 feet in altitude on the mountain, this place is called “the death zone” because there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe. Prolonged exposure to lack of oxygen can cause brain damage, a hemorrhage, or a heart attack. Many people who go up into the death zone never return. And for those who successfully summit Mount Everest, many will say that when they got into the death zone, they weren’t thinking about reaching the summit, they were just trying to take one more step.
Most people, when they get to the death zone, actually can’t make the summit by themselves. They use supplemental oxygen to help them breathe. Yes, they may make all the steps with their own feet, but they can’t make it with their own air. While very few climbers are able to make it without supplemental oxygen, the vast majority need it. Sadly, there have been a few climbers who insisted on doing the climb all on their own, with no help, and many have died trying it this way.
In II Corinthians 1:8, Saint Paul writes that when the disciples were in Asia, they were so afflicted and “so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” Imagine that, the greatest of Christ’s Apostles writing that he despaired of life itself. If you’ve ever felt totally crushed like you couldn’t take another step, take some solace that even Saint Paul felt this way at one time.
The Christian life is a lot like climbing Mount Everest. The mountain climber thinks of the glory of the summit, standing on top of the world, perhaps in a similar way that the Christian thinks about heaven and standing in the presence of God. No one sets out to conquer Mount Everest with sadness. Maybe with a little fear, but certainly not with sadness or desperation. In the same way, no one sets out on the Christian journey with sadness. Perhaps we begin with some fear, maybe even with some doubt.
Even the heartiest of climbers are going to be challenged by climbing Mount Everest. Some of the top mountaineers in the world have written how the climb to the top became a journey of doubt and despair, that the prospect of the glory of the summit disappeared amidst fears of not surviving the climb and the energy of just taking another step. In fact, just taking another step would become a victory. No longer was the summit the goal. The goal was just to take another step.
If we are honest, we’ve all felt like this. Our lofty goals, whether spiritual or material, have gotten replaced with a singular goal: just take another step, survive another day. Most, if not all, of us have felt “burdened beyond measure” at least once in our lives. Whether it is a mountain of sickness or a mountain of work, or trying to be three places at once or just trying to touch all the bases in life, we’ve all felt overburdened. Many of us, at some point in life, will even despair of life itself.
As an aside comment, if you are ever despairing of life itself, to the point where you think you could end your life, CALL SOMEONE and ask for help. And if you have no one you can call to ask for help in this most dire circumstance, my phone number is 813-394-1038.
Saint Paul, in his moment of despair, was actually under the sentence of death. He would later escape from this sentence and continue his missionary work, though eventually he would be imprisoned and sentenced to death again and then martyred. And what he learned, in this traumatic period, was not to give up, but to rely more heavily on God, Who ultimately delivers us from death by giving us eternal life, and before our physical deaths, delivers us in so many other ways.
When we get burdened beyond measure, focus not on the summit, but on the next step. We can’t expect God to whisk us off the mountain and take us directly to the summit. We can, however, expect God to give us the strength to take the next step. And when we have taken all the steps, we will be at the summit. In fact, we can only make the summit with His help. Eventually, we will all have a hard time with some of the steps in life.
In seeking healing of soul and body, when our bodies and lives are beat up to the point where the soul can’t take another step because the air is thin and is not going to get any better, this is where we must reach out to God, for “supplemental oxygen” for the strength to take that one more step. If we are “low on the mountain” and “supplemental oxygen” is not needed yet, we can still reach out to God for wisdom in the “climb” and strength for the journey that lies ahead.
As a glorious crown, O Pure one, nature accepted your Divine Son, crushing the hosts of the enemy, and conquering them totally. Therefore, crowned with the joyful radiance of your grace, we sing praises unto you, All-lauded Lady. (8th Ode)
May God always give us the strength to take one more step when the burdens become great. May we each be faithful and humble enough to reach out to God for His supplemental healing and the strength He gives us to keep going!