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What climbing a mountain can tell you

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The beginning of the walking trail up Stone Mountain is easy enough, but as Georgia Baptist Executive Director J. Robert White found out, looks can be deceiving. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS/Special

There are lessons to be learned from folks who are older than you, and you are never too old to learn from others.

It’s a good idea to keep both of these statements in mind. There is too much age prejudice in our day. The older folks often think of the younger folks as immature self-absorbed, disrespectful and lacking in generosity. The younger folks think the older folks are overdue for retirement to the rocking chair, too aged to have a creative idea, and so past their prime that they have nothing to offer.

Both views are offensive. Actually, every stage of life is exciting and life should be lived with zeal and creativity all the way to the end. Further, every one of us should be respectful of others regardless of their age, vitality, or station in life.

Let me illustrate by remembering my climb up Stone Mountain a few years ago. I was staying overnight in Stone Mountain Park as I attended a North American Mission Board meeting. With the morning available before my meeting began with the afternoon session, I decided to climb the mountain. I thought to myself, “This can’t be too hard. My Dad climbed this mountain with my two sisters and myself when we were just kids.” That was the last time I had made the climb, but I had no question in my mind that I could do it.

After parking my truck in the parking lot – yes, I drove to the base of the mountain not wanting to wear myself out walking there before I made the climb – I began the ascent. “Hey, this isn’t too bad,” I thought to myself. It was an incline, but not steep at all. I wondered if maybe I should jog up.

Good thing I didn’t try that.

About two-tenths of a mile up the trail, I finally found the painted line I was supposed to be following. It really had not been a problem finding my way because there was an elementary class of about 30 kids ahead of me, and I had already decided that I could just follow them.

It became apparent very quickly that the further I went, the steeper the climb became. Of course, I didn’t want to overtake the class of school children, so I slowed down a bit. Actually, I had to slow down. I was breathing hard and my heart was racing, but I kept pressing forward. Many young ladies, some of whom were jogging up the mountain, passed me while laughing and talking with each other.

I couldn’t help wondering how they had enough breath to speak. I said to myself, “Youth is a wonderful thing!”

There was this one guy on the mountain that day that really gave me a hard time. He was a very kind gentleman who looked to be about 90 years old. He was tall and lean and pretty much just shuffled along as he moved slowly toward the crest. I quickly passed him early in my walk, but as I became winded and had to pause to catch my breath, I kept looking back to see where he was. I vowed to myself, “I am not going to let that old guy beat me to the top of this mountain.” I hoped he would not see through my commitment as he would get close and I would take off walking again just in front of him. Continuing my climb too quickly, I was still winded, heart still racing, but determined not to fall behind the old man.

With his shuffle very evident and close behind me, I turned to ask him, “How often do you climb this mountain?”

“I climb this mountain every day," he responded.

“Oh no,” I thought, “this is not a good thing. Look at him, he’s not even breathing hard.” I said, “I understand that the mountain gets very steep up ahead where the iron handrails are.”

He said, “Sure does, but after the iron rails, it gets even steeper before you get to the top.”

Still clueless, I thought to myself, “That’s where I will leave him behind. I’ll get well ahead of him at the steepest part.” When I reached the iron handrails, my feet felt like they were planted in buckets of cement, and I was pulling myself up with the handrails. I had to stop. My heart was racing too fast and my strength was spent. Finally, my survival instincts surpassed my pride.

Just then, here he came, shuffling by me. When he got about ten shuffles past me, he turned to look at me and said, “I told you it got steeper toward the top.” He turned back toward the peak and kept shuffling. When I reached the summit, he was sitting on a boulder talking with a park ranger.

I couldn’t speak, no breath left, so I waved and smiled with true respect for the endurance of the old man.

If you ever decide to make the climb up Stone Mountain, watch out for an old man there who seems too old to be climbing that mountain. You might learn some things as I did on the day I climbed the granite hill. It’s not so much about age. It’s more about stamina and determination.

I learned that age is not so important. What is important is persistence, determination, and faithfulness to the cause that makes you a winner.

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