Saturday, September 29, 2012

Granny Gear

Every fiber in my body screamed out, “Stop!” I gasped, trying to breathe deeply, but at 13,000 feet there just wasn’t enough oxygen to satisfy. My pack felt like it weighed two hundred pounds. There was an uncomfortably cool breeze coming up-slope and my sweat was drying in place.

I forced myself to look up. The trail rose ahead of me and became even steeper. I had thought that I was getting near the pass, but then, I had thought that twice before on this long grind of a grade, only to crest a false summit and see the trail stretch on ahead, level for several hundred yards and then up the next incline.

I didn’t want to go on; I couldn’t go on, but I could not stop here, either. I didn’t want to get caught above the timberline by the daily thunderstorms that gathered over the peaks. Even now, I could see the clouds getting organized.

True confessions: I’m neither an athlete nor the son of an athlete.I thought to myself: "There are many backpackers in far superior condition and maybe they would not have even raised a sweat going over this pass.

But they’re not here, and I am, and I’ve got to carry this pack with what strength I’ve got, not what strength they’ve got, and I’ve got to get over this pass and down the other side and into the timber before the weather hits.

And frankly, its not real helpful to think of other guys who could do it better, because right now, I’m the guy that’s got to do it."

There was only one thing to do. Drop it into granny gear and keep moving, so that’s what I did. Granny gear has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

Everybody’s got a granny gear, and sooner or later, everyone’s got to drop it into granny. Even the young bucks, the athletes. Let me tell you what it looks like.

 First of all, you’ve got to be in the right mood for granny gear. Granny gear is what’s left when you’re done, played out, when you’ve got nothing left but you must keep going. Re-read the first sentence of this essay. That’s when you’re in the right mood for it.

Second, you’ve got to know how to do it. It’s actually quite simple. When I drop ‘er into granny, my stride goes to less than the length of my boot. Depending on the incline, it might go as low as one-quarter the length of my boot. Don’t recall it ever getting any shorter than that.

You just put one foot down after another, making, maybe, six inches of progress with each step. And you just keep going, and you don’t stop. You don’t listen to your lungs, and you don’t listen to your legs, and most importantly you don’t listen to that voice inside your brain that’s begging you to stop. You just keep going.

Third, you’ve got to know where to look—and it’s not down. You don’t look at the trail (you’re moving slow enough where you don’t need to, unless you’ve gotten to a switchback and there’s a dropoff involved). You especially don’t look at the feet of the person ahead of you, if there is anyone ahead of you. Nothing saps your energy like that. Don’t look down.

No, you force yourself to remember why you’re here to begin with: because you are surrounded by the most glorious scenery on the face of God’s green earth, so you lift your weary head and like a thirsty man you drink in the beauty.
Granny gear. Thank God for granny gear. I’ve used it on many occasions, on many backpack trips, and it’s always gotten me to a place where I could legitimately stop and set up camp.

Did you realize, Christian, that not only do you have a spiritual granny gear, but you’ve also got occasions in which God is expecting you to use it? It’s for times when you must go on, and you can not stop, and every fiber in your spirit is saying, “please, can’t I just quit?”

Exactly why do you imagine that someone of the caliber of John Piper wrote a book entitled, “When I don’t desire God, how to fight for joy?” I expect it was because there are times when Dr. Piper finds himself having to . . . fight for joy. Or why do you think that he condensed it into a smaller book entitled, “When the darkness will not lift?” Maybe because he’s experienced that? You think?

Did you know that Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of the last 300 years, wrestled with depression? Did you know that Martin Luther did, too? Did you know that the apostle Paul did, on at least one occasion (read 2 Corinthians 1-7 carefully, and be sure to at least check out 7:6 in the NASB).

Let me share with you a few parallels between backpacking with a granny gear, and walking in Christ.

Your path: Face it, your trail has got one too many, or ten too many, high passes. You’re going to wear out and want to quit. But you can’t quit, you must finish your course, and you can finish your course because He has equipped you to do so. In Philippians 1:6, Paul shares this confidence with us: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Your attitude: High altitudes and the decreased atmosphere can do funny things to your attitude. Something that starts out fun (maybe its even a vacation, maybe you even paid out big bucks to do it) becomes something you no longer feel like doing, no longer want to do. Life as a new believer in Christ can be exhilarating, but sooner or later you will find yourself wondering where the joy went. That’s when you face a fork in the path. You can either take the easy fork that leads back down into the pleasant meadow, or you stay the course, grind it out, and get over the summit. The problem with the easy fork is that when you wake up in the morning you’re still on the wrong side of the mountain.

 The fork you face as a believer is whether you are going to chase pleasant feelings, or learn to walk by faith. A walk by faith is exactly that: nothing confirms that it’s the right way to go except the map itself (the Bible). You don’t feel like doing it, you desperately want to quit, but you don’t. Because you are walking by faith, not by sight (2 Co 5:7). Paul says this about that in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Your altitude: It’s a truism in the Rockies that the higher you go the more beautiful the view. I’ll vouch for that: I’ve found nothing that competes with the grandeur of a vista at thirteen-five, or fourteen thousand. But getting there is a beast, and for me, it almost always requires granny gear at some point. Walking by faith is exhausting, daunting, discouraging. But I’ve heard that the view from the top makes it worth it all. Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross (Heb 12:2). If the earthly tent, which is our house, is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands (2 Co 5:1). Therefore, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Your posture: if you look down, if you look at the feet of others, the walk becomes misery. But if you will raise your eyes, and drink in the view that brought you here in the first place, which is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Co 4:6), you will gain new strength.

Your camp: when, exhausted, you are finally able to set up camp on the right side of the mountain, there’s no joy that compares with the knowledge that you have arrived, and that supper, and rest, is coming. I don’t need to draw the parallels here for you, now, do I? Just think of Paul’s victory cry in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Granny gear. There’s no shame in using it. Nuts, some of us live in it. We all come equipped with it, because the Designer has planned some trails that are going to be rather tough.

And in His love, He gave us granny gear: that ability, empowered by the Spirit of God, to keep moving when we’ve got nothing left, by putting one foot just a tiny bit ahead of the other, over and over again, until we crest that pass.

Don’t quit. Stay with it. In the strength of Christ, you can do it.


  1. Dad, this is wonderful encouragement and a great reminder. Thank you.

    (P.S. - are these all your photos?)

  2. Thanks, babe. Yep, these are my photos, some taken in the 80's, a couple shot from the trip that we got to take together with Rick Kline.

  3. I think most people (myself included!) could say that the greatest times of accomplishment and growth in their lives were times that they spent in Granny-gear. I'm thankful for the times when my strides are small because it's those times that my God is biggest to me.