In the beginning the way is broad and easy. The road is smooth and the ascent is barely noticeable. I walk happily and easily along the gentle slopes. I have my pack well-stocked an and on my back. I also have my wooden two-wheeled cart, loaded with my most cherished possessions. Even loaded as heavily as my cart is, it is smooth and easy to push it along in front of me.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the path narrows a becomes a bit less smooth. The incline seems to increase with each step I take. As I round a bend I can look back and see that I am indeed climbing more rapidly. The way ahead seems even steeper yet. I can still manage the journey, but it is no longer easy. I must stop and rest more often.
Soon my times of rest become more frequent and longer, comprising the majority of my time. My arms and shoulders ache from the weight and strain of pushing my cart before me. The path is becoming less smooth and my card lurches from side to side and crashes down into ruts and over ever larger rocks in the path. Despairing at my lack of progress and worried that I may lose a wheel or snap the axle of my cart, I decide to lighten my load. I sift through mounded cart, discarding what I think I can do with out. It saddens me to leave behind the things I worked so hard to provision myself with, but there is no other way.
With my burden lessened, my trek is once again easy; my strength is once again sufficient.
As I resume the assent, the way becomes every narrower. The once broad avenue is now a narrow foot path. Shrubs and low tree branches grab at my cart, trying to stop my progress. I push on through them but soon find that huge rocks on my left form a virtual wall. On my right, a once gentle slope down has become an alarming precipice. The sides of my cart scrape and catch on the rock wall, threatening to push it off the edge to the right.
In a rare wide and level spot I stop to assess my situation. My cart has taken a beating. I am exhausted trying to keep it from going over the edge. The way forward seems even more treacherous and narrow. If I am to go forward I must abandon my cart. Yet I have worked so hard to gain my possessions and to bring them this far up the mountain. I sit in that spot for a long time. My things are so dear to me!
Eventually, I make up my mind. I will give up my cart but contrive to keep as many of my things as I can. Casting my cart aside, I sift through my belongings, judging what I hold most dear and what I’m willing to let go of. In the end, I repack my backpack, adding some of my most cherished things. Still other things are added to the outside of the pack, lashed in place with make-do straps.
With my burden lessened, the way again is easy. My strength is once again sufficient. The narrow places are no longer such a challenge.
No sooner have I found a comfortable pace and start to be content with my progress then the terrain changes yet again, becoming more and more difficult. The path becomes steeper and the footing less sure. At times I am climbing as much as walking. The weight of my pack, combined with some nearly vertical climbs threatens to pull me over backward. As before, I find my need for rest stops coming more and more frequently.
I know what I must do. I pare my pack down, leaving behind everything I dare, leaving only the essentials — food, water and the few things I am sure that I will need for my journey. But soon even that is not enough. The path is too narrow, too steep and too treacherous. Soon I am forced to abandon my pack entirely, trusting that somehow I will reach the summit before I succumb to hunger or thirst.
Unburdened, the climb (for it is not now a hike) becomes easier. Then, unexpectedly, the nearly vertical path slowly begins to level off. As it levels, it broadens. The boulders that hedged me in for so long become fewer and smaller. The harrowing precipice also ends. The change is subtle and revealed only over time. Yet soon I find myself on a smooth broad road.
Looking back, I spot my backpack, left far below. Even further back, so far back that it is hard to believe I can spot it, is my abandoned cart, a mere speck. Looking ahead, the path remains broad smooth, slowly climbing upward. Not very far ahead I see cool streams of clear water and fruit trees in abundance. It is a natural garden. For a moment I wish I had my cart, it would be perfect here. Then I laugh at myself, realizing that I have neither need nor want for the things I once prized so highly but left behind along the way.
I know that I have not reached the summit, but here, in this garden, I know that I am close. Any sense of urgency I once had is gone. I am free to tarry or proceed. Each step forward now reveals new delights: an especially beautiful flower, an exquisite new fruit to enjoy, a warm and sunny spot to sit and hear the music of a stream flowing over cataracts.
I do not know what is next. I feel neither urgency to press on nor a desire to linger. In my freedom I continue on my way at a pace dictated by God, enjoying the beauty of his mountain.
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