A Journey to the High Places11 Sep 2019
By Appley Groch
– 06.04.19, Abruzzo region, Italy. Words written as I looked upon this view.
As I sit atop this mountain, I can’t help but be astounded by God’s beautiful creation – “You’ve outdone yourself here Pappa!”
I’m no artist but I was moved to draw the breathtaking landscape before me and rejoice: I’ve made it to the High Places!
I recently read a beautiful book by Hannah Hurnard entitled Hinds’ Feet on High Places. Perhaps you’ve read it? If not, I cannot more highly recommend a book than this one.
Hind (noun): a mature female deer.
The book is an allegory (a fiction story with symbolic meaning), following the journey of a young woman, Much-Afraid, who dwells in the Valley of Humiliation not far from her wretched cousins Craven Fear, Bitterness, Pride and Self Pity. She longs to escape her Fearing relatives and go to live in the High Places. But, being crippled with crooked feet and a twisted, downturned mouth, she knows she will never make the journey and fears she wouldn’t even be welcome there. Worse still, she’s being bullied into marrying Craven Fear and her pathetic helplessness brings her much distress and shame. Still, she dares to dream.
Much-Afraid is in the service of the Chief Shepherd of the valley, tending to his sheep. She knows the Shepherd often makes the journey to the mountainous High Places in the Realm of Love above, and one day by the quiet cascade and pool, she tells him in her distress, “Oh if only I could escape from this Valley of Humiliation altogether and go to the High Places, completely out of reach of all the Fearings and my other relatives!”
“I have waited a long time to hear you make that suggestion, Much-Afraid,” replies the Chief Shepherd – and here begins our story!
The journey to the High Places is long, difficult and dangerous. But Much-Afraid begins it with the Shepherd, and continues on with the two strong guides he gives her: Sorrow and Suffering. She walks, holding on to the Shepherd’s promises that he will make her feet like hinds’ feet, that she will receive a new name, complete healing and a heart that blooms with the flower of Love. Along the way, Much-Afraid finds herself again and again laying down her will and her fear, and in doing so every time finds the Chief Shepherd to be a man of his word. The Shepherd promises to be right by her side whenever she calls out his name – and regardless of the circumstances in which she finds herself, the Shepherd always comes and his presence is pure comfort to her.
I read this book this year as I was taken on a long and difficult journey with God myself. The parallels between Much-Afraid’s struggles and my own were obvious – and with over 2 million copies of this book sold, I’m sure I’m not the first person to feel this way.
God revealed to me in January this year that He is leading me back to Australia, I believe with the intention to be my grandmother’s full-time carer. She has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I’ve been in the UAE for almost twelve years now – in fact, having come here straight out of university, I’ve lived my entire adult life here. Not only that, but I’ve never lived as a Christian in Australia – I found Jesus right here in the Middle East.
To say that I was ‘much afraid’ is an understatement!
But God had gone ahead of me.
Despite feeling an uneasiness about signing the intention to renew my employment contract for the 2019-2020 academic year, I did so early January when I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the UAE. Then, as I took my feelings of uneasiness to God and He made his intentions for me to return to Australia clearer, I laid the fleece when I was to meet with my employer to discuss my contract retraction. I was met with unexpected kindness and compassion when I found that my employer too had faced losing a family member to dementia and understood the journey that was before me. He graciously allowed me time to make a decision, without financial penalty.
My next hurdle was to let go of my attachment to all the ‘stuff’ I had accumulated here: my comfy lounge, my big bed, my lovely car, my fully equipped kitchen… you see, I’d never thought of these things as idols until faced with giving them up – and it hurt! I woke one morning with the story of the rich young ruler on my heart. Instead of just Googling it I decided to search through the book of Luke myself to find it – and on the way found God calling me to deeper faith through scripture after scripture:
By the time I got to the story of the rich young ruler, God had made it abundantly clear to me that it wasn’t just the loss of my ‘stuff’ that was holding me back – it was the loss of my autonomy. Here I was thinking I’d been following God with all my heart, when actually it had always been within my realm of safety, security and control.
Was I willing to follow through on my ‘big red button’ prayer that lives on my bedroom wall…?
Dear Jesus, I want you at the centre of my life, and commit through your power to serve and obey you. Anywhere. Anytime. At any cost. To do anything.
God had unearthed in me both an idol of control and a fear of the unknown. I like to plan ahead – including contingency plans – and it unnerves me when things don’t go to plan. Even though God had confirmed in several ways by this stage that going to Australia was His plan for me, I didn’t know all the details – where I’d stay, whether I’d be capable as my grandmother’s carer, and what about provision?
“I am your provider,” God told me.
I was a generous giver, but I realised now this was because I always knew when my next pay cheque was coming.
I’d given my all to God – except that my trust was in my ability to provide for myself. I’ve been making my own income since I was ten years old! Was I willing to trust God as my provider?
But He had already gone ahead of me.
Years ago, as I communed with God in my quiet place, He had told me to give my sister a substantial sum of money to pay out her car loan. He told me that this would be ‘instrumental in her journey of coming to know me.’ I’d followed his direction without hesitation. And now, years later – when I told my sister that I would be coming home to Australia – she told me out of the blue that she would like to give me her car! “You paid it off years ago Appley – I’ve just bought a new car and was about to sell this one, but it’s yours.” Wow!
Back to our story. On Much-Afraid’s journey to the High Places, she finds many ‘detours’, each one – unsurprisingly – with a lesson to be learnt.
As she was taken away from the mountain slopes and into the desert, Much-Afraid learnt the lessons of the threshed grain (‘though bread corn is bruised, no one threshes it forever’), the clay moulded in the skillful potter’s hands (‘Behold, as the clay is in the hands of the potter so are you in my hand’), and the gold refined in fire (‘my rarest and choicest jewels and my finest gold are those who have been refined in the furnace of Egypt’).
One of the scriptures I felt the Lord had given me for the people of Australia was…
I’ve long feared Australia is becoming a ‘godless nation’. In the tradition of the West, they’ve taken God out of schools, institutions and conversation. Distrust in ‘organised religion’ is high, individual autonomy is the Australian idol and everyone has their ‘own truth’. As a teacher in the UAE, my students and I have a common belief that there is a God. But if I talk about God in public schools in Australia, I could lose my job.
I was struggling with the idea of living in Australia. City Hill is my family, the only church I’ve considered home, and the place where I have grown and matured through strong friendships founded in Christ. I couldn’t stop the tears escaping down my cheeks at the thought of leaving my church family. At the same time God revealed to me feelings of unworthiness, as I feared I wouldn’t be welcomed or accepted back in Australia because of my weight – Australian culture is very anti-fat and I’d faced much torment and disdain in the years I lived there and in my visits back home. I knew that Australia was God’s will for me, but I was acquiescing in it.
Acquiesce: (verb) To accept something reluctantly but without protest.
In the desert, Much-Afraid comes across a single little flower, living under the infrequent drip of a pipe and with its face beaming up hopefully and bravely towards the drip. She is beginning to learn the language of the mountains, and finds that this little flower is called ‘Acceptance-with-Joy’.
God didn’t just want me to acquiesce in his plan for me – He wants me to accept it with joy!
Much-Afraid gives up everything to take the journey to the High Places. The Shepherd does not lead her directly there however, and she is taken on many ‘detours’, including along the Shores of Loneliness, up the Precipice of Injury, and through the seemingly unending thick mist. To add insult to injury, she also finds herself constantly harassed by her cousins sent to bring her back to the Valley of Humiliation: Bitterness (“See, I told you it wasn’t worth it”), Pride (“Now don’t you look the fool”), Craven Fear (“You’ll never make it”), and Self Pity (“Woe, I’ve given up so much for this”). But it is through these detours that she learns to accept the guidance of Sorrow and Suffering, recognise and resist her cousins’ schemes, and to stand on the Shepherd’s promises. She develops faith, perseverance and experiences the Shepherd’s faithfulness first-hand.
One of my favourite parts of this story is when, after Much-Afraid has been led back down into a new valley, losing all the ground that she had gained up to that point, she approaches a massive cliff face with dread, wondering how on earth she’ll ever surmount it, only to find that the Shepherd had already provided the way back up: but it required a serious leap of faith! I won’t tell you any more of the story though – you’ll have to read it for yourself!
Though I myself be much-afraid, God is moulding me like clay in his hands, refining me in his fire, teaching me to lean on him only, and showing me his faithfulness all the way. Though my guides on this faith journey have indeed been sorrow and suffering, I rest assured that this path leads me to the High Places, where I shall receive a new name.
I am called to accept his calling with joy!
I do Lord! I do accept your plan for me with joy. I don’t want to hold back any longer. I trust you have already gone before me, and you’re right beside me all the way. Whatever your plan for me in Australia is, I accept it with joy and thank you for shaking me out of my place of comfort and control, to allow you to be sovereign in my life.
Now I ask you, my friend: Are you ready to ask God to take you on the journey to the High Places, where perfect Love casts out all fear? The journey is not easy, but you will not be left to walk it alone. Weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning! Trust me – our great Shepherd is worth it!