Warm, barefoot summers in Kansas I avoided them at all cost. Those feisty red ants had hills stationed throughout the farmstead. If a kid wasn’t looking where she was going, she got a painful reminder that she was infringing on their territory. Still, I spent hours observing those little guys at work, hundreds scurrying, carrying stones that were grains of sand to me, but had to feel like boulders to them.
Always working, moving rocks.
Our red ants knew how to move a mountain. They could relocate a hill (queen and all) overnight. When Dad’s truck tire or my brother’s firecracker destroyed their fortress, they would move their entire existence to another location. I often wondered how they did that so seamlessly. (And I often imagined when they paused, that they were looking at me, disappointed that I didn’t understand.)
I’ve thought about those ants lately. Because, in our household and for so many we love, it feels like we are all constantly moving rocks, trying to manage a mountain.
Many are carrying loads far heavier than my own right now. Already in this new year, shouldering boulders of regret or fear or shame. Worries for children, or parents, or tomorrows. And I feel the weighty stones of still others: in rehab, in hospice, in loneliness.
A few months ago, we lost several hundred-foot oaks in our yard. The new landscape still causes a catch in my throat. But worse than the emptiness, even worse than the holes, are the stones. When the 10,000-pound root balls came up out of the ground, they brought stones with their shallow root systems. Literally, tons and tons of fist-size rocks now cover our yard. My husband picks them up one at a time. By hand. If they were large rocks, we could get a front-end loader to scoop them up. If they were smaller, a shovel would work. As it is, only individual human-hand-sized scoops will do the trick. And it will take so many. The task feels insurmountable.
To us, stones represent the challenging parts of this life. Mountains we cannot seem to move with our mustard seed faith. Boulders we stumble over again and again. Rocks people throw at us in jealousy or anger or ignorance. Pebbles of disappointment in our shoes, rubbing away our joy.
But to God, stones are far more. They symbolize a gate that must be opened to experience fullness of life. In scripture, a large rock is often used to describe a barrier between where a person is and where a person is meant to be, either physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Difficult daily stones comprise a mountain.
And that mountain can keep us from our best life.
So maybe what I need, what we all need, is not so much the mountain to completely move, but a way through it.
(It’s probably no coincidence that red ants are experts at tunneling, too. I observed this when my brother bravely kidnapped a few, hostages held in a sand-filled mason jar.)
I have also marveled at seeing the two and a half mile Whittier tunnel in Alaska two years ago, and the Holland tunnel under the Hudson River in NYC just a few months ago. How were these wonders accomplished?
It takes special equipment to get through the hard rock in a mountain, to make a tunnel. Slowly, carefully, boring through so the entire landscape is not destroyed. I’d always imagined a single blast of a pile of dynamite sticks (like Wiley Coyote) and then a path through. But that is never the way.
Turns out, any large mountain is made up of smaller stones. Tunneling requires taking these rocks out in pieces. And leaving the mountain itself standing.
So it is not surprising that in scripture, the stone metaphor has a second meaning. Besides a barrier between us and our best life, stones are also used to represent a challenging truth to hear or accept.
And for me, the difficult truth was this:
Sometimes, though God provides a tunnel, the mountain remains.
As a monument to what He continues to guide us through.
From my journal:
After all the prayers and anointing and pleading with God, my disease remains. I imagined it would be far in my rearview mirror by now. Just a past legend of God’s faithfulness and healing. That He would have stepped in and saved the day, moved the mountain. But the hard fact is, we are still in the thick of it. And the heart changes painfully slowly. Best case scenario, we are in this for a long, long time.
Even Jesus didn’t move the entire mountain of death out of the picture. But He made a way to the other side.
We can get discouraged when the whole stone-filled mountain doesn’t jump into the sea overnight. But maybe we need to redefine moving mountains.
Because, if we can get through it, the hardest part of the mountain really has moved.Maybe we need to redefine moving mountains. Because, if we can get through it, the hardest part of the mountain really has moved. Click To Tweet
Little by little.
Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but He never said it would happen all at once. As Paul says, transformation happens one degree of glory at a time (2 Cor 3:18). One small stone at a time. Like the individual rocks my husband picks up in our yard. Or the grains of sand those red ants moved as a matter of everyday business.
Maybe that’s the only way God lets us see any mountain managed. With daily persistence. With the help of a colony. One rock, one human-sized handful, at a time.
One step at a time. One hug at a time. One meal at a time. One prayer at a time.
Maybe He wanted us to help each other change unscalable mountains into unbelievable monuments. By picking up the hard parts of life alongside others. By helping find a tunnel through the trouble.
And when that mountain is finally navigated, we find that even more than the landscape, it is really us that has changed. Maybe that is the best life our God wanted for us all along on the other side of those heavy rocks.
I think the red ants would be pleased I’m finally getting it.