But you, Israel, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:8-10


I have no desire to climb Mount Everest, but I have read several books on Mount Everest as well as watched several movies and documentaries. The view from the top is amazing, though I don’t have any inkling to risk life and put away comfort to go into that extreme environment. And I’m out of shape too.  


Mount Everest is over 29,000 feet tall. That is nearly six miles up in the air. It is the highest point on earth. There are 14 mountain peaks that are over 25,000 feet elevation. Anything over 25,000 feet altitude is called “The Death Zone.” The air is so thin, it is nearly impossible to breathe. Most climbers wear bottles of oxygen and must use them constantly. People simply cannot survive about this altitude for very long. As they struggle to breathe, they also struggle to function. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it is hard to think and it is hard to move. Judgment becomes impaired. What was so simple to do down the mountain literally becomes a matter of life and death, a struggle with each step. Climbers are no longer looking up at the summit. The goal becomes much smaller—to just take another step forward. Elite athletes who have trained for years, have climbed other mountains, and have amazing mountaineering skills, are reduced to a goal of taking a next step, and merely breathing.


And that’s okay.


They feel triumph upon reaching the summit. And soon forget the agony it took to get there. Every step up the mountain became harder, there is euphoria at the summit and as they quickly descend the mountain, while still needing to be very careful (yes, many people have died on the way down the mountain, it became too hard to breathe), each step brings them closer to the thicker air and the ability to breathe easily again.  


Many of us are like the climbers on Mount Everest. We have something that brings us joy, mountains that we actually enjoy climbing. We have goals, summits we want to achieve. And yet, like on Mount Everest, there are times when the air will seem like it has been sucked out of life, and we will struggle just to breath. At these times, it is okay to focus on just your next step and not worry about the summit. At these times, it is okay to just breathe and not try to do too much. At these times, it is okay to use supplemental oxygen, as they do on Mount Everest, to use some tools to help you breathe. These tools might be things you can do on your own—extra prayer, quiet time, journaling. And these tools include things other people can do for you—listening to you, lending you an ear, or a shoulder to cry on, letting yourself cry in front of someone, talking out your feelings. It’s okay if you shift your goals for a little while from “I’m going to make the summit” to “I’m just going to take another step.” It’s okay if your focus shifts from “I can run” to “I’m just trying to breathe.” KEEP WALKING. Take that next step.  


The people who have died on Mount Everest are the ones that couldn’t keep moving. Many stories have been documented about people who got tired and decided to just sit down and take a break. And instantly, whatever warmth was left in them began to leave. They began to freeze, and quickly couldn’t move, couldn’t function, couldn’t escape. People back at base camp would plead with them to keep moving, because movement would keep some semblance of warmth, their blood would keep pumping, their brain would keep working. Other people have died on Mount Everest because they took a misstep, probably because their brains were impacted by not having enough air to breathe and they made a bad decision.  


So KEEP MOVING, get up and get going. You don’t need to worry about the summit, but you do need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes we have to stop looking up at the summit and just keep looking down at our feet, to make sure they are moving. There are many people who have summitted Mount Everest, who have survived the “death zone” because they kept walking, and they kept breathing. And you, too, can survive the “death zones” that occasionally we encounter in life by doing the same—keep breathing, keep walking. Sitting (in the sense of doing absolutely nothing) really doesn’t work for any period of time. That’s why in hospitals, even after the most serious of surgeries, the doctors want the patients up and walking, even if it is really slow and with a lot of assistance. Because to live is to move and to breathe. So move, even it if it is slow, even if you need assistance.


Every Prayer Team message begins with some verses of Scripture. I many times use the app “Bible gateway,” to find appropriate verses. Today’s find from the book of Isaiah is really beautiful. Isaiah was a prophet, whose words comforted the children of Israel during their exile in Babylon. At that time, the children of Israel believed that God resided in the Temple in Jerusalem. So that when they were exiled to Babylon, not only their grieved the loss of their homeland and their freedom, they thought that God had died. Isaiah wrote to assure them that He hadn’t died and that they were still His children. For today’s Prayer, I will reprint the Scripture used today, and leave a space for you to insert your name into it. Here Isaiah’s prophecy as a prayer for you, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. Read this prayer slowly, and hear a voice of love and encouragement in it from God Himself.


But you (insert your name), my servant, (insert your name), whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you “You (insert your name) are my servant, I have CHOSEN YOU and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.


Thank You God, for choosing me. Please keep walking with me. Please help me put one foot in front of the other today. If I can’t focus on the summit, help me focus on my feet. When I am having trouble breathing, send me someone who will help me breathe. Guide my steps. Guide my breaths. Amen. 


Keep walking, keep breathing, if the summit is too much to think about today, just look down at your feet and take a step!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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