Last weekend I was blessed to attend a pastor’s wives retreat. It was marvelous. It was refreshing. It was uplifting. I was able to meet other pastor’s wives and swap stories with them. I stayed up late with them, sipping wine and eating chocolate. I had free time to walk, write, and relax. I went kayaking. Our group of ladies had wonderful sessions together. We sang together. We harmonized together. We did devotions together. We learned different methods of doing personal Bible study. It was a wonderful weekend. And then I came home.
I’m not gonna lie to you. The homecoming was rough. The day after I came home my three-year old was exceedingly whiny, my sixth grader needed help with homework that confused even me, and one of my children, who shall remain nameless, had a major meltdown, followed quickly by an equally major meltdown on my own part. It was ugly. Here I had been so excited to come back and put into practice all these wonderful Bible study techniques I had learned, and the first day back was simply awful.
Even my Bible study time didn’t work out as planned. We had been told to remove distractions, so dutifully I went to my own room, to my little closet I converted into a mini “study.” The youngest three were in bed, and the older two were in the living room watching football with Daddy and eating ice cream. I kid you not—I walked into my room and shut the door, and immediately I heard an ice cream sundae dish clatter to the tile floor and break. Sigh. After cleaning that up rather grumpily, I came back to the room, now in a terrible mood and not in a proper mindset to be reading God’s Word. Instead, I cried. I complained to God. I told Him exactly how I was feeling and managed to throw a pretty good pity party, if I do say so myself. Then once I spent my frustration, I managed to open the Bible to my chosen portion of Scripture and begin. About two minutes later, I heard one of my children crying elsewhere in the house. Diligently, I pressed on, ignoring the crying. Then right outside my bedroom window, I heard one of my boys yelling about losing a quarter in the grass in the dark. (They were out looking at the eclipse by now, mind you.) All told, I managed to get the devotion done, but not in the peaceful, cheerful way I had envisioned. It was more of a “grit your teeth and get it done by the seat of your pants” sort of style. Welcome home.
The problem with mountain top experiences is that at some point you have to come back down, and sometimes there’s a valley awaiting you. It’s a hard fall. But eventually the mountain and valley equal out, and you’re left with life as usual—life “on the plain.” Yes, you’ll have peaks and valleys in your life, but usually you’ll find yourself simply on the plain. Nothing really phenomenal, but nothing absolutely tragic either. Yet compared to a mountaintop experience, life on the plain is pretty dull.
So what can we do when we’re stuck in the monotony of the plain? When the scenery gets boring and we long for a change in topography? Look to the Mount of Transfiguration. You know the story—Peter, James, and John go up a high mountain and see Jesus transfigured before their very eyes. They actually saw Jesus in His glorified state. Now, that in and of itself is mind-blowing, but then suddenly Moses and Elijah appear with Him. W.O.W. Talk about a mountaintop experience! But of course, they couldn’t stay there forever. Eventually Moses and Elijah left, and Jesus returned to His normal earthly appearance. They had to leave the mountain and come back to the bitter reality Jesus had already revealed to them—that He was going to suffer and die. Not exactly a compelling motivation to come back to life as usual.
But wait—there’s something important here that’s easy to miss. Matthew 17:9 tells us, “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them…” Did you catch it? The disciples weren’t alone. Jesus was with them. He didn’t give them an amazing mountaintop experience only to send them off on their own. He personally accompanied them back down. Verse 5 of the hymn ‘Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here, (Lutheran Service Book 414) puts it like this:
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.
You are not alone, for, you see, Jesus is with you through it all. He is, after all, Immanuel—“God with us.” He is with us on the mountaintop, He is with us in the valley, and yes, He is with us on the plain.