High Altitude Humility

by Adam Thada

Mountains are the eternal inspiration for poets, dare-devils and soul-searchers. On the mountain, humanity’s mad obsession with petty day-to-day concerns simply melt away like glacial ice under a scorching sun. Here climbers are reminded that they are not so powerful after all. Humility is a survival strategy. Proud alpinists don’t last very long.

I recently found my small self in a tiny tent perched on a patch of rocks that was covered in three feet of snow. I was with some friends who were going to attempt to summit a nearly 20,000 ft peak during the night. I had come with them to high camp (not quite 17,000 ft) simply to get out of the city and to see the Milky Way in all its glory. I had recently discovered two very important things: a) my heart was growing a little too large as a result of living in El Alto (13,300 ft), and b) my wife was pregnant. Somewhat unsure about my physical capabilities and not wanting to leave my dear wife as a single mother, I decided to take it easy and not press my heart to the limits with a summit attempt.

But one heart problem led to another: as my friends got up at 1am to prepare for their climb, I sat in my cold tent and had a flash of my own cold-heartedness. “Maybe it’d be better if they didn’t make it all the way to the top, since I can’t make it today.” My competitive and athletic drive took a selfish turn. “If I’m going to be bummed, better for them to be bummed too.” Misery loves company indeed.

In the Scriptures, we find that the trajectory of Spirit-filled communities is not towards mutual misery, but solidarity through good times and bad. This demands humility as a starting point. We are to “share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2, NLT). We mourn with our friends even when we’re happy, and we celebrate with them even when we’re down. In humility, we accept everything good and perfect—for anyone—as a gift of our Father (James 1:17).

Not being from an agricultural society, I had interpreted Jesus’ words of sending rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matt. 5:45) as God occasionally sending bad things to everyone, no matter their behavior. Rain gets us wet and cold, and it spoils our plans. But rain ultimately sustains agricultural systems, and thus our own physical existence. God is not a petty, jealous, score-keeping judge like I am. Rather, God is generous, over-flowing with every good thing.

As the quiet dawn broke over the mountain, my bitterness and pride slowly dissolved with the fading darkness. I began to count my humble blessings: a warm cup of coffee, a brief escape from diesel fumes and blaring horns, two strong legs and a toasty sleeping bag. As my friends arrived back to camp (some had reached the summit, others didn’t), I saw smiles on all of their faces. And I smiled too.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Is. 52:7, NLT)