Updated: May 5
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)
In Utah, the dry heat was bearable since the humidity was non-existent. But it was still an intense 101-degree day. A few of us went to the Tuacahn Saddle, a strenuous hike through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and into Snow Canyon. After a long day’s effort, we were rewarded at the pinnacle with an incredible view of the canyon. It’s multifaceted topography of sand, sandstone, and jagged rocks, with bright blue skies as a backdrop. We earned the rest and the magnificent view.
The hike required us to be deeply attentive to our footing and to use various technical climbing methods to get to the top. One of these climbs required us to use a scary, yet thrilling, new-to-me method called, “stemming.” In order to keep from falling or slipping, you have to press your feet firmly into the sandstone, spreading your legs with each side using equal and opposite force against each side wall.
At first, it felt awkward, uncomfortable, and I struggled to get my bearings. But as I continued from one deep crevice to the next, it became much easier. Before long, this new way of climbing renewed my confidence in using different techniques. I felt like a modern-day Spiderman!
With stemming, you need to hold your body upright while evenly distributing your weight between two vertical rocks. I remembered this experience later when I struggled for clarity around an important issue. I’d wrestled with it in prayer for a time and[…]” while evenly distributing my weight between two vertical rocks. I remembered this experience later when I struggled for clarity around an important issue. I’d wrestled with it in prayer for a time and had decided to bring it to a few wise friends. I scheduled a meeting to share my honest thoughts and to be quite frank, I was anxious.
My go-to interior pattern was to “people please” and to have “peace at all costs.” I believed that if I expressed strong disagreement, even if in a firm and calm manner, others might judge me as being wrong, confused, or just plain incompetent. I struggled with giving myself permission to disagree with a situation when I had a deep conviction.
When I applied the lessons of stemming to this situation, I found myself asking the Lord how I might figuratively “hold the tension” in this situation without either abandoning myself through people pleasing or going in with my ego, holding a non-verbal, self-righteous attitude.
After about a week of pondering and praying, the Lord reminded me about how he held the tension between two situations, that is, experiencing fully his humanity, while entering fully into his Divinity. If he experienced such a delicate balancing act, why wouldn’t we be asked to do the same?
I realized that holding the tension in the midst of two sides of a situation is actually where we too, are invited to be. I am not called to insulate, to isolate, or to avoid, but to be where I am, to have those difficult, uncomfortable dialogues with people who have different perspectives, and to sometimes sit in the awkwardness. After all, how do we grow, unless we allow ourselves to come close to one another, broken and beautiful all at the same time?”
As a spiritual director, I was presented with thought-provoking questions. One of our professors would gently challenge us with this evocative suggestion, perhaps this is your “growing edge”. If we want to experience life fully, we need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, to “stem” between the circumstances and the people in our lives that aren’t necessarily easy to bear, and be open to the invitation of transformation there.
Spend a few minutes in silence and settle into a comfortable place where you can allow your body to relax. If there are a few areas where you are still tight or tense, notice that and take a couple of deep breaths to release the tension and offer it to God.
• After reading the story, what struck you the most?
• Were there some themes you resonated with?
• What themes did you notice a resistance within you?
• I invite you to read Isaiah 43:18-19
“Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now, it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
What word or phrase stood out for you?
Talk to God and ask him what he would like to say to you about it.
“Together with God, consider one concrete action step today based on what you heard, read, or experienced during this time.
Closing prayer (optional or your own):
Thank you for your examples of how you “stemmed” between two extremes. You laid down the path for us to follow but did not force us to move in that direction. You were generous with your love, even when everyone around you was limited by theirs. You always call us back unconditionally to yourself, even when we struggle to love.
Please give us the grace to step out boldly, lovingly, and humbly, with individuals with whom we may not see eye-to-eye. We ask for your gentle challenge to love like you in the midst of our own imperfect love and to believe that is enough. Please give us the grace to lean into the ways you would have us understand a situation, rather than our own comprehension.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Heather Makowicz: Tuacahn Saddle (Padre Canyon), St. George, Utah”
PEAK ENCOUNTERS: A Spiritual Field Guide for Adventurous Souls
Heather J. Makowicz
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