by Serena Sinclair – Pastoral Intern
“Reach . . . reach . . . reach a little higher” my dad coaxes, I jump to grab his hands and he tosses me upward. Giggling, squealing with delight, I yell, “Do it again dad, more, more.” Kids never tire from the exhilaration of reaching up, being catapulted into the air, then falling into the sturdy arms of their parents. When parents are worn out from this exercise, kids soon learn to conquer the miniature rock climbing walls at the park and negotiate the climbing of tree branches to find a high perch. This activity typically increases parent anxiety levels. Then, of course there is the feat of tackling the playground monkey bars (the three-dimensional framework of horizontal and vertical bars from which kids hang upside down). It is a proud day when you can scramble up the rungs of the ladder, reach for the bars without assistance and, by sheer will, swing your way across one rung at a time without falling flat on your face or doing a scorpion.
Once we approach our twenties, we begin the ascent to declare our independence by passing our driver’s test, landing a job, and eventually moving into our own space. We learn to survive on ramen and peanut butter. On special occasions we treat ourselves to the Burger King drive through, and when we tire of fast food we launch into the mystery of figuring out how to cook something our taste buds will welcome. One of the final marks of maturity is investing in our own laundry soap and accepting the fact that our parents are not equating “quality time” to doing our laundry at their house. Growing into our individuality, we have every right to be proud of our accomplishments; we work hard, endure a few setbacks, push through, and find some upward mobility by solving our own dilemmas.
As we advance in years and grow into our confident adult self, our vertical reach tends to decrease. We’re satisfied with our own self sufficiency and we decide it takes too much effort to reach up, arms extended to the sky for there’s no one to do the heavy work of lifting us upward. The days of climbing trees and jumping into our dad’s arms are shelved with other childish notions. Reaching upward is then often replaced with reaching outward to new friends, getting married, having our own kids, discovering new pastimes, and maybe even travelling. Striving to live a good life of generosity we may reach out to the vulnerable and homeless as our way of “paying it forward” and improving our community. We live satisfied, comfortable in the life we have created. On the days that percolate more stress than the usual misplaced car keys or missing shoes, instead of reaching upward, we are easily distracted by what catches our eye: the flatscreen, the shiny things, the new outfit, the new car or other proud investment to which we attach value and allow to shape our identity. What happens next is logical, perhaps predictable: doing life our way incurs a penalty that generates a loss, a setback, whether large or small we lose yardage towards the pursuit of our goal . . . because we insisted living life on our terms. We settled for comfortable horizontal living that didn’t require us to worship anything above the longitude of another human being. When did we forget to extend our arms and reach upward to our Father God, the One who embodies what love is because He is Love.
To relieve us from the pain of our stubborn hearts, Jesus reached down to us by emptying Himself of heaven’s glory and wrapping Himself in flesh (Phil 2:7). His psyche was not scripted. His soul, mind and flesh experienced the full realm of human experience. His flesh bled and bruised from scrapes and abrasions; he was not invincible to the elements or the oversized nails of the Roman soldiers. When Thomas reached his hand into the speared wound of Jesus’ side, his amazed proclamation was, “My Lord, my God.” Jesus took the penalty of our failures, allowed himself to be crucified as a criminal and rendered sin powerless (Rom 6:7). Because of His sacrifice we can exchange eternal death for eternal life. We are made in the image of God, created to live forever in the presence of God. While we wait for Jesus to return and fully establish His eternal kingdom, He offers us access to the power of His presence through the Holy Spirit. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13). Since God’s Spirit lives within us, why should we extend our arms upward to the heavens? The spiritual answer: When we raise our arms upward, we acknowledge His greatness and our weakness, our stance becomes a posture of reverence to our Holy God. Physically the upward stretch of fingertips reaching upward exercises our muscles, strengthens our core, straightens our spine and improves our posture. Holding the posture of standing on one’s tippy toes while stretching upward increases equilibrium and encourages a higher level of biomechanics which when repeated consistently, decreases the potential for injury. Is it a coincidence that a simple upward reach also signals the adoration of our hearts toward our Lord and Savior? I want to live into this posture of reaching upward with fingertips outstretched to the heavens acknowledging that without Him I have nothing and with Him I possess EVERYTHING! Our God is never unreachable. He surrounds us. He lives within us. So, must I continue to reach for God when He is nearness is evident? I have found that even in the solitude of sitting in silence with God, I reach out to Him to quell the steady stream of my inner voice so I can concentrate on His.
Jesus endured human time and space so that we could learn to press into the divine space of His presence and live beyond the limitations of our humanity. In a sense, God reaches down to us through Christ, and we reach upward to Him by faith. The apostle Paul describes the journey of his transformation in his letter to the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14,15 AMP). We are never too old to reach upward. Someday we may substitute a chair for standing and later in life, we may need someone to lift our arms upward as we reach toward the heavens. Never stop reaching up — the Father’s arms are open and willing to take us higher.