I dreamt that I was standing at the bottom of what appeared to be a very tall hill. I had to climb it if I was ever going to reach the “Promised Land” I had been told about. The land was said to be a rich, lush, green valley. It was full of refreshing rivers, fruit and rest for my soul. I had a sense that it remained ahead of me, somewhere just beyond the ridge of the hilltop. The only way I knew how to get to it though was to move forward, struggling up the climb before me.
I began to march up the mountainous hill with countless other wanderers journeying along side me. Apparently we were all seeking the same endpoint. We’d all been told the same kind of message and none of us questioned it.
Pretty quickly in my ascent up the incline it become too steep to hike upright on. I adjusted my posture and began to crawl up the hill, hands on the ground like a bear. I still thought it would be a pretty doable journey. Over time however, the hill steepened even more.
I eventually found myself bouldering the hill like a rock-climber. At one point I was stretched out almost completely vertical — hanging onto the hillside with all my might as I reached upward. I was starting to get very tired. Somehow I hadn’t expected it would become this much of a challenge. I was exhausted…
Suddenly the loud roar of an engine ripped through the air. I looked up, and far above me, over the top of the hill, a couple massive vehicles appeared. They were specially-crafted machines, looking something like the hybrid of a tank and a large four-wheeler. They’d clearly been built just for this sort of intense terrain.
Someone was shouting from one of the vehicles, “It’s no use!” I stopped to listen to what they were saying. “Turn back! It’s no use! We’ve climbed for so long, and it’s an endless desert up here. It doesn’t ever get better — no matter how far you search!”
Done Trying So Hard
I was shocked. These guys, it seemed, with their incredibly tough vehicles, still couldn’t ascend high enough up the hill to find the promised oasis. “Well then,” I decided, “what’s the point for the rest of us pilgrims?” With that, I started to loosen my grip on the steep slope I’d been clinging to. I began a slow downward slide toward the valley below… I’d given up.
When I finally found my way all the way to the bottom, I pulled myself away from the hill and stood up. I turned around, leaving tons of people behind me who were still tenaciously attempting to scramble their way up it. I walked off in the distance, returning to a nearby city that I had originally come from before beginning my climb.
Back in the middle of the busyness of everyday life, I ran into an old friend of mine in a store. She was someone who’s always been marginalized by society for the unique ways she was unable to fit cultural norms. We struck up a conversation, and at some point I ended up praying for her and encouraging her about her life. Our interaction was such a normal, natural and beautiful moment — completely unlike what I had just been experiencing on my wearisome climbing venture. And then I woke up.
Upon reflection, I felt like God’s Spirit quickly revealed to me the meaning of the dream. The impossible hill I was trying to climb was that of religiosity — a human attempt to achieve holiness or closeness with God. I’d spent my whole life trying to be a better Christian, never feeling like any of the instructions I was diligently following were bringing me into the spiritual satisfaction I’d been promised in Scripture. Alas, however, I heard some well-established spiritual leaders preaching a radical message of extravagant grace. They’d gone ahead of me, and after many attempts of their own, given up on the endless process of seeking to attain their own righteousness. I became convinced by their testimonies that all my laborious efforts at achieving divine favor, a sense of identity or a contentment in God’s Presence were futile… My willpower just wouldn’t succeed in getting me there.
Instead, I had to let go and learn to live a normal, healthy, functioning human life on earth. I had to be present to the world around me and embrace it for what it is. And in recognizing God’s Kingdom within me, I got to learn to let love flow from my heart to all the seemingly regular people down here in the real world who I have constant opportunities to build connections with.
In other words, the dream was a poignant picture of the need we all have to quit trying so hard to please God. We can release ourselves to enjoy our everyday, common lives with those the Lord has already given us to befriend and grow alongside. We are at home in the love of Jesus here and now, and can allow ourselves the freedom to quit being so hyper-spiritual and performance-oriented all the time. As we do, we might just realize we weren’t ever getting ourselves anywhere anyhow. That is, not with all of our vain attempts to search and strive our way into the state of rest Christ so freely gives our hearts!
“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest…”
– Hebrews 4:9-11