As we continue our trek across the nation, we have been enjoying the beauty of California. My impressions of the state during all previous visits were of the coastal regions. While lovely, to be sure, it has also been delightful to find proof that the inland areas are also breathtaking.
A few days ago, we visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Both parks have some road washouts from earlier months. On the day we went, the park service had most of both parks closed due to high, raging rivers. Since Giants Forest in Sequoia was closed to us, we were thankful to see some giant sequoias in Kings Canyon, including General Grant’s Tree, the second largest tree in the world. President Eisenhower made it a National Shrine in 1956, dedicating it to the men and women of the Armed Forces who served, fought, and died to keep America free.
The kids led us on a hike around part of Hume Lake in Sequoia National Park. They picked out walking sticks and used them to rake together piles of pine needles. They climbed on top of dead trees and enjoyed the challenge of getting over the occasional muddy section of the trail.
We were warned when we entered the park and again during our snack time about the dangers of the rivers and to stay far away from them. Other hikers reported that the day prior, a mother had walked her two children into the river on some rocks so she could take a picture of them. I don’t know if she ever got her picture or if she can look at it if she did. Suddenly, her children slipped off the rocks and were swept into the river. News outlets reported that search parties eventually found the children’s bodies.
This mother’s nightmare stays with me. As a parent, I hurt for and with her for her loss. I also agonize for her. It is not only her young children she lost — their cuddles, hugs, and laughter; their stories, frustrations, and opinions that cause reflection, growth, and change in us as parents. She lost herself there. She will never be the same, and it will be harder still to permit herself to embrace the life she has left because her life and identity were so deeply intertwined with theirs.
Unfortunately, like this poor mom, many of us don’t anticipate the cost of our actions. It’s because we’re human and don’t always see the deadly ramifications of something as innocent as a photo-op. This lends the question, is a picture worth dying for?
“No,” would likely be the answer most of us would give. Yet, how many have wandered into dangerous terrain, taking along friends and family? Later, realizing our actions caused someone to stumble and fall spiritually.
And so, it is with sin. Sometimes, we don’t realize how close we are to imminent danger. Sometimes our seemingly benign actions can harm others and permanently take them off their path.
Recently, I took my children to the pool at the RV park. We had it to ourselves, a stark contrast to Memorial Day weekend. I sat on the steps at the entrance to the pool, giving my full attention to my two youngest children as the older two played together with pool noodles. I threw pool toy after pool toy in for my four-year-old. He dove underwater and swam ten feet, picking up an object and swimming back with his prize. While marveling at his newfound confidence, I turned to check on my daughter.
Her feet had slipped off the step less than two feet from me. Only the top half of her head was above the water. Her eyes widened in panic, crying out to me without a sound. Immediately, I leaned forward and grabbed her, pulling her to me and holding her to my chest for a long time.
How quickly that happened! How close she had been, and yet without my attention, not nearly close enough. The dear sweet girl whose cries call to me from her crib in the night and awaken me from my slumber so she can nurse or be assured of my presence could not even cry out for me.
King David wrote of a time when his feet had almost slipped, figuratively. He began to be envious of the wicked for their prosperity. Despite their arrogance, their mocking of God and God’s people, and their violent hearts and actions, they were well off, never hungry, tasting success without torment. David began to wonder if it was worth it to follow God (Psalm 73).
By God’s grace, David could perceive their end, however. “For behold, those who are far from You will perish… but as for me, the nearness of God is good for me.” (Psalm 73:27a, 28a; NASB2000)
In 53 days, I will have finished reading the whole Bible for the first time in my life. It is the most enriching thing I have ever done. It is a constant reminder to guard my thoughts and steps and evaluate who and what I am compelled to worship. His Word reveals the inconsistencies of the human heart, how quickly we turn to doubt, and how dangerous our pride is. Like David, I can say honestly that the nearness of God is good for me! When I allow His Word to daily pierce my heart and order my affections, these things keep me from sin and bring about change more quickly. They develop my communication with God and teach me how to approach Him.
In Psalm 145, David praises the Lord for similar things. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him and hear their cry for help and save them. The Lord watches over all who love Him, but He will destroy all the wicked” (Psalm 145:18-20, NASB).
With multiple children and many things to watch over, my attention is imperfect. But God is not limited in His personhood, and there is great comfort in knowing He is watching over us. Therefore, when I trust God with every decision, he can help me avoid choices that lead to deadly repercussions for myself and others.
Prayer: Father, I am prone to comparing my life to the lives of others as David did. David shows me that each willful act of comparison is a slippery step toward disordered thinking and even death. My disordered thoughts permit me to worship myself above You, and I feel cozy in their justification. Yet I know from Your Word and from experience that worship of the self has a disappointing end, that You alone are worthy of worship, and that You withhold nothing good from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 14, Psalm 89:5-17, Psalm 84:10-11). I confess my love of self and self-justification, my willful doubting of your character when I’m unhappy, and my willingness to jettison Your truth to hold onto my feelings. Pierce my heart with Your truth so that my feet do not slip! Gently remind me again of your deep and personal love for me! Take my heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh that proclaims your awesome name with boldness. Amen.
Your turn: What unmet need or weakness in my faith triggers my willingness to compare myself with others?
Do I consistently examine my heart to ensure I’m NOT in a slippery place?
Am I as quick to submit my mind to the truth when I recognize that I am comparing? Do I have verses displayed around me or in my memory to aid me in reorienting - God’s glory first, my full satisfaction as the result?
Am I willing to trust my unmet needs and weakness of faith in my daily relationship with Him? What temptations do I encourage by comparing (judgment of others, self-pity, doubt of God’s goodness, recycled pain and trauma, pride, etc.)? Do I recognize these as sins, and have I confessed them? What do I love about God and his character, and how can I cultivate a heart of worship? Am I in the Word, demonstrating that the nearness of God is good for me?
Whom can I trust to pray for me as I process these questions and grow deeper roots?