The Power of Looking Up
Entering “The Narrows” at Zion National Park in Southern Utah was one of the most anticipated highlights of our family vacation. As we set out on our morning excursion, we were well-equipped with professional water boots, Neoprene socks, real wood walking sticks and a backpack full of snacks and water.
About a mile into the hike, the paved path ended, and we made our way into the water. We waded upstream between towering rock formations on both sides. The current was swift but doable, and the natural beauty that awaited us was well worth the effort.
I soon became acutely aware of something I was doing that I didn’t even realize: I was looking down. A lot. Granted, the stream bed was made up of rocks of every shape and size. Each step was an invitation to twist an ankle or lose your balance. And while it made sense to look down, something inside me started to feel amiss. Blurry stones seen through calf-deep water all began to look the same.
In that moment, I heard a still, small voice whisper, “Stop. Look up.” So, I did. And what my eyes beheld was a beauty so striking, a natural landscape so breathtaking, I won’t soon forget it. After weeks of gazing down into the dulling abyss of living life through a screen during quarantine, beholding the unyielding, immovable beauty of rocks, sky, trees and sunshine — outside and unmasked — grounded me. It was healing, reorienting and cathartic.
It wasn’t hard to realize that “looking up” was why I even came on my hike. “Looking up” was giving me the perspective my soul craved.
Why, then, had I been so intent on keeping my face down? Not a trick question: safety, of course. But safety isn’t what made me feel alive. Looking down intent on — and protective of — my own safety, step upon step upon step, made me feel exhausted, discouraged, and a little numb.
Still, looking down in this context makes perfect sense. It should help me plant my steps firmly, right? Not every time, at least not for me. Even with carefully obsessing over each step, I still slipped once or twice. Relying on my own rock-navigating skills wasn’t fail safe, by any means. It was “looking up” that gave me my “why” — to keep going, pushing farther and farther upstream, into greater depths of awe-inspiring beauty — to believe that something even better was just around the bend.
The 2020 ‘Flash Flood’
Let’s just go ahead and admit it: 2020 has been one, huge temptation to keep looking down. Besides the everyday-life “rocks” in our path that seem to exist only to slip and trip us up, we’re also dealing with threats of unexpected societal flash floods — just like the real-life one that threatened us in The Narrows that day. These flash floods pose actual, life-threatening danger of sweeping everything in their path downstream. Before we know it, anxiety and fear about all the unknowns keeps us from looking up, trusting our walking sticks, and fully experiencing the presence of the beauty and majesty around us.
In that moment, I was reminded of two truths. First, just as the towering rocks were immovable in The Narrows, God is our immovable Rock in times of trouble (Psalm 62:2). If I found myself in a flash flood, I literally could have hidden myself in the cleft of one of the rocks.
Second, God wants us looking up to Him (Psalm 121), not down onto our circumstances. There, in the middle of that stream with water rushing around me and thousands of rocks behind me and in front of me, I realized that looking down was about self-sufficiency; looking up was about God-sufficiency. In the same way, God is calling us to redirect our downward gaze off of challenging circumstances, seemingly endless obstacles, and all the “what-ifs” of life’s potential flash floods, and onto the beauty, ability, and power that is God.
Would we be brave enough to lift up our eyes and let go of perceived self-sufficient safety in favor of something so much more beautiful and inspiring that it re-energizes our souls, reorients our priorities, and makes us come alive afresh? In looking up to God as Our Rock, we will find our steps planted securely as we stare into the face God’s beauty, holiness and unchanging promises towards us.
“Letting go of looking down” seems to make no sense in the moment, but it is the very decision that frees us up to find ourselves propelled forward. And as 2020 continues its uncertain threats to our safety, security, and stability — pressuring us to stress over the slippery rocks we must navigate — let us never forget: there is power in looking up.
Annemarie McLean is a four-girl mom, freelance writer, and co-founder of Brave & Beautiful, a ministry focused on challenging young women to live purpose-driven lives full of courage and character, while developing Christ-centered inner beauty. Annemarie holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.