Until last week, going climbing was just a nice excuse to see Ellie who I feel homesick for in busy London, discover new muscles and somehow feel more connected to John. Sure, my muscles would ache the next day but nothing that a coffee wouldn’t fix. But then last week, I spent the best part of a week after a climbing session feeling a raging ache that wouldn’t shift. It was an ache right to my core, and I could barely lift my arms above waist level. Although it was horrible and made me swear temporarily off climbing, it got me thinking.
The session which had caused the ache was the best one yet. I’d woken up the next morning still on a high, running around and telling still-waking-up-housemates ‘I did a 5+!’ (Just read: big-small achievement. Sort of like when a baby first takes a step and then falls promptly back down again. The surrounding excitement is huge and disproportionate. But I’m firmly of the belief that celebrations of the small victories should never be proportionate).
For the first time, I had tried a slightly harder route without cheating and grabbing onto a hold which wasn’t part of it. It had meant stopping more to recalibrate my route. It meant looking down to Ellie and Ben holding onto my ropes at the bottom and asking their advice. It meant taking note of their encouraging shouts and letting them spur me on when I would much rather have just bounced down on the rope. It had meant trusting that they had me secure enough to catch me when my fingers were losing their grip, caked in chalk. It meant summoning all my mental energy in addition to my physical, and strangely, spiritual, and allowing them all to align. Mind, body and spirit, working in harmony. Three is definitely better than one.
I remember at one point, nearly at the top of the wall, so close but so sure I couldn’t do this last tricky bit, I heard their voices telling me to come on, I can do it. And I looked up and thought to myself in a split second – how often do you climb down before making that impossible seeming leap, trusting in the Catcher who tells me to try it anyway? I’m sure whatever I felt in that final, heady, sweaty second wasn’t quite that coherent but it was something along those lines. And I remember breathing: JESUS this is for you! And pushing up with my feet. And reaching the top!
The euphoria and the pain were both great, and I felt surprised at the unfamiliar feeling of having pushed through something which I had previously thought to be impossible. It made me think that so much of what remains undone or unexplored is rooted in fear. I promised there and then that I would try to trust my feet and push up towards the everyday victories more and more – and I guess that goes hand in hand with trusting the One who will make my feet like those of a deer, causing me to tread on the heights.
I realise it might sound silly, my saying that that day was an immensely spiritual experience for me, but I truly believe it was. Because something shifted in me when I reached the top. So much of my life is scripted to the old song which says: I can’t do this. Or the one which sings in harmony with it: next time, next year…when I feel more up to it. This goes for things which I would love to do – like write, climb, explore how big and wide and vast and deep the world is while I’m still in my 20s. To be more grounded in my community here in East London and maybe run a marathon. To be a more present friend, sister and daughter and bake bread on Saturdays. To spend more time with God in quiet places and be kinder to those I love.
And pushing through the sweat and ache and disbelief to reach the top helped that song to shift a key – into a one which reminded me that people can change. Even if the process hurts like crazy as our muscles acclimatise to the new rhythm. New habits can break old ones, and it’s time to shake off the minor key of ‘next time…’.