When I was a teenager, I went on a couple of short term mission trips with Teen Missions International, first to Thailand, then Brazil. Talk about life-changing! Both of them were incredible experiences and ones I couldn’t more highly recommend. But, before we got to go overseas, we had to go through Boot Camp.
And, every morning, each team had to make it through the dreaded Obstacle Course (or OC, as it was affectionately, and not-so-affectionately, known). Think big. Team-building to the extreme. Rope swing over a three-metre-long moat. Giant hill of tyres. Rope ladders. More hills. Climbing, crawling, swinging, ducking, running.
And, The Wall.
Ah, The Wall.
The final challenge. A four metre high wall. Straight up, straight down. The aim being to get as many team members over it before the time runs out. The ultimate team-builder. Because there was no way someone could do this one alone.
Picture a bunch of sweaty, tired yet hyped up teens, some (like me) soaked from their daily fall into the moat, looking up at a wall, the glare of the sun in their eyes, yelling back and forth about who’s going up next and how they’re going to get there, cheering each other on. You’d send up the two strongest guys first usually. The ones who, with a boost, could pull themselves up to sit on the top. Then one by one, other team members would get boosted up by those on the ground, reaching high enough to grab the hands of the guys on top and walk their way up. There was many a debate later on as to what was the best method – bracing yourself and walking up or being pulled, monkey grip or hand clasp, gloves or bare hands – but one by one, we’d all go over.
And around it all, the continual cry of ‘hands up, eyes up!’ Over and over. Hands up, eyes up.
Because, inevitably, there would be people who fell, and the last thing you wanted was for them to fall from four metres to the ground. Every team member who wasn’t either boosting someone up, on top of the wall or climbing, had to have their hands up ready to catch if need be and be looking up. It was a safety measure which became our catchcry.
A cry as much a part of the wall as climbing it was.
Hands up, eyes up.
It’s been fifteen years since I last climbed that wall but that cry is still stuck in my head. Yes, because I heard it so many times, but also because it’s become something more since then. A daily, sometimes minute by minute, reminder.
Not to hold my arms up in the air in case someone falls down on top of me (thankfully, that doesn't happen all too often in everyday life!) but to hold my hands up in worship and surrender. Not to keep my eyes on the top of the wall and those climbing it but to keep my eyes on God and what he’s doing. Even when I can’t see from the glare of my own limitations.
Hands up, eyes up. Hands up, eyes up.
To keep my focus not on the mess and noise around me but on the God above me. Not on how tired I am or the fact that I’m dripping wet and wondering how I’m going to find the strength to walk to breakfast, but on the way God has carried me this far and will again. As far as he needs me to go. That he is bigger than my weakness and stronger than my pride. Greater than my plans and wiser than my worries. That God is God and I am not.
Hands up, eyes up.
It’s tough and downright draining keeping your hands and eyes up for a long time. Believe me, I know. Your arms get tired, they burn with the ache. And that glare, so bright your eyes turn to a watery mess. Staying in that attitude of worship and surrender is just as difficult. I want to do it my way. Wallow in the pain. Complain. Point out to God all the ways none of this makes any sense.
But – hands up, eyes up – it’s in the surrender, the tear-filled faith, the choosing to trust, that God pulls us close. Those moments when we look above the pain that we see God.
Hands up, eyes up.