I vividly remember, sitting in our living room one night at the ripe old age of 16, trying to teach my dad a thing or two about Christianity. We spent many late nights during that phase discussing a whole world of Christian zeal that my youth group had introduced into my life. The man has patience like I’ve never seen, and although I’m sure he would’ve loved to roll his eyes at me, he never did. He listened, and then he talked. And, then he listened more as I tried to enlighten him out of my vast life experience.
On this particular evening, I was fresh off a stint at youth camp, so I was in ultimate super godly girl mode. I had been riding the emotional high of an experience that was catered to me for an entire week, and I came home prepared to explain to my dad just how the Christian life ought to be. The whole of life, for Christians, I argued, should be a mountaintop experience.
I’m not sure exactly where I picked up that phrase, mountaintop experience. But, I was pretty sure I had just had one. I felt like Moses. I was certain that I had just seen God, right there in the middle of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Great Adventure” album, which played on a continuous loop at camp. I had had an experience. An encounter. And, I had no intention of ever going back to my old ways or being satisfied with the usual day-to-day, trigonometry getting me down type of existence.
I told my dad so.
He laughed. Gently, in a kind, but slightly pitying type of way. Looking back on it now, I recognize the fatherly sorrow in his patient chuckle and heavy sigh. He must’ve been thinking of all the life that I had yet to live. He knew that heartbreak was coming. That life would knock me down. That my own sin would trip me up again and again. He knew that not every day of Christianity is a glorious, shining example of how to live for Christ. Some days are just putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto to a thin thread of hope in what Jesus said, even when it looks like nothing good could possibly be around the bend. My dad, a man who had buried his mother when he was only 17, who had already watched his father and his brother die. He sat there, looking into the face of his slightly arrogant teenaged daughter, knowing that the human existence is filled with never-ending pitfalls, some of which will shake your faith to its very core.
I have learned it now, Dad.
I have learned that no one can stay there, hidden away on the top of the mountain with God forever. Not even Moses could do it. Eventually he had to come back down and deal with the huge pain in the neck called the Israelites. He got so mad about their disobedience that he threw down the tablets that God had written for him, the tablets that had been so precious a little while ago on the mountain that he had carried them with tender care all the way down, floating on the wings of a glorious encounter with God. Suddenly they lay in pieces at the feet of the idolators. Moses’ mountaintop experience didn’t last three minutes after the realities of his life punched him in the gut. Imagine how often during his wanderings with those stiff-necked people that he closed his eyes and tried to remember what it felt like there, on the mountain, when his singular focus was God and His word. When he wasn’t having to deal with stubborn people or his own tendency to fail.
And, every once in awhile, I’ll bet he could do it. I’ll bet he could remember exactly what it felt like, trembling there in the presence of the God of the Universe, completely consumed by His goodness, His might, His love. And, the memory of that very real encounter sustained him. It kept him going. It kept him humble. And, it reminded him of the truth of God’s promises.
I still have a mountaintop experience here and there. I still have moments when I feel His presence in such a real way that it changes me. I have days when I feel like I have seen His face. But, the rest of life? Well, it’s more like a series of valleys. Some peaceful and serene. Some stormy and tumultuous. Most somewhat unremarkable. I see now that my dad was right. All of the Christian life can’t be a mountaintop experience. But every single day, no matter how amazing or how horrific, can be lived with hope, because His promises are true, even when we are stumbling.
I’m grateful for times on the mountain with a good and gracious God, and when I feel like I’m bogged down in the valleys of the Christian life, I close my eyes and remember how real He is. How close my encounters with Him have been. And, I thank God for the hope that no one can ever snatch me out of His hand. I have been a mountaintop climber and I have been a valley dweller. And, I have learned, Dad. I have. God is just as real in the low places.