When I was on pilgrimage in Italy this summer, something surprised me: I found myself craving plateaus.
There is a hike here in Virginia that I have done a couple of times called Crabtree Falls. It is up, up, up for 2 miles. A series of switchbacks and stairs to the top of a waterfall. When I make my way up this particular trail, I find myself putting my head down and climbing as fast as I can. My legs burn and I push hard. I feel the rush of achievement as I pass each tenth of a mile marker.
That’s my inclination with learning, too. And discipleship. I want a short, steep climb. Always moving up to the next level. Always growing and achieving.
We did some climbing in Italy. The difference there though was that it was definitely a marathon, not a sprint like the way I tend to hike at home.
We set out early in the mornings and unlike Crabtree Falls the terrain was new to me and unknown every day.
For some reason counting to 8 over and over and over helped me get up particularly hard hills. It gave my mind something repetitive to focus on and a pace to match my steps.
There were times when each step was a struggle. Where moving up looked more like me shuffling my feet than climbing a hill.
Before I started hiking, I assumed going downhill was the easiest part of the journey.
Not true. Going down means your feet slide to the front of your boots and your shins absorb a lot more impact. (Here is where hiking poles can help, I’m told, but I’ve never quite gotten on board.) Journeying back down Crabtree Falls, right back over the same terrain I had just climbed, is actually much harder. I have to go slower. It’s at that point I can really feel each step, not as a burn anymore, but as compression and friction.
There really aren’t any plateaus on that waterfall hike, but there were plenty in Italy.
And a plateau in Tuscany is something to behold.
When I reached the top of a hill, the noise in my head stopped. I could simply look around and gaze at the rolling hills (some of which I had just climbed), the tall trees, the hilltop towns in the distance, the horizon. Miles and miles of beauty.
Miles and miles of hard-earned perspective.
I came to really appreciate flat stretches after a long climb. I could gaze around, resume my conversations, marvel at the beauty of creation, and wonder at the fact that my legs just carried me up to this new level.
It’s in my nature to want to keep climbing. Finished college? Get a master’s degree. Finished reading one book? Pick up three more. Comfortable swinging a 20lb kettlebell? Pick up a 35lb one instead. Finally reached a comfortable rhythm of work and rest? Probably time to pursue another client or opportunity.
And on it goes; up, up, up.
I turned 30 last Friday. Two days before, on Wednesday afternoon, I shared with my spiritual director how satisfied I felt enjoying those plateaus in Italy, and how I feel I have hit a sort of plateau as I made my way toward this next decade of life.
We talked about how much I have grown and all the things I have processed and worked through over our two years of meeting together.
I’ve walked a long road with God as I’ve gotten used to marriage, and living in a new state, and building community, and discerning and pursuing my vocation as a writer. These are no small things and it obviously wasn’t a straight climb up a mountain to get to this plateau. There were a lot of ups and downs. A lot of tears and discernment. A lot of healing and getting to know God and myself better.
I want to look back over my shoulder, and all around, and enjoy where God and I have walked thus far.
I want to be present and trust that God will lead me on each day; I don’t have to find a mountain to climb in order to keep moving on this road of friendship with God. I don’t have to work to achieve anything in particular other than turning my attention more and more to God.
I laughed a lot this weekend. I’ve rested in and celebrated this milestone birthday with people I love. I’ve marveled at the way time passes and the way I’ve grown. I’ve been praying to quiet the voices in my mind which tell me I’m wasting time by not working every moment I have available.
As a result, I feel more joy bubbling out. I feel more energy to be present with my friends. I feel more able to listen and not worry if I’m doing enough or saying enough.
I’ve found, like I did in Italy, that I like this plateau. I want to stay here a while. I want to walk slowly with God and let God point out how far we’ve come. I want to leave tomorrow for tomorrow and trust that God will walk with me through, whether up or down or maybe just forward.