We are both on the winding path between the accommodations and the main building at an Arizona resort. She, I assume, is on her way to get breakfast. I have escaped from the ballroom where I have been prepping large sheets of paper from before dawn. Total strangers, we stand and take in the vista before us.
“We have been coming here for years,” she says, “and I’ve never seen it so green.” It is surprisingly lush, due to last night’s rain. But I have no point of comparison, since I spent all of yesterday – twelve straight hours – standing at a wall, creating artwork in a conference. It’s why, now, I’ve taken this short break. I needed to see this scenery for myself. Before committing another twelve hours to the dimly lit wall.
It’s not surprising that the Southwest has become synonymous with the American spirit of independence. The iconic solitary, tough-as-rawhide cowboy fits well into this landscape, where scattered saguaro cacti rise against rocky hills. We like our heroes to stand alone. To reject the crowd. To be their own men.
But I am not that cowboy. Waking up stiff and sore after my long day, I knew I needed extra support, both physical and spiritual. So I texted a close friend and asked him to pray for me, that God would make me able to stand.
The believers in first-century Colossae had such a friend: Epaphras. Paul writes to them to tell them:
He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Col. 4:12)
There is no place in the New Testament for the fierce loner. To become a Christian in those early, vibrant beginnings of the faith meant to instantly be welcomed into a community – one that cared deeply for each other. It still does today.
It is to our great loss that English has but one word for both an individual and a plural you. Steeped in our cowboy mentality, we read that verse and others like it and apply it internally. But Epaphras is praying that the fledgling Colossian church would stand firm. As a whole. Yes, as individual believers – but never as solitary ones. Maybe we should listen to our Southern friends and introduce y’all to future translations. It would help us immensely.
Before I turn to face my marathon day, my pathway companion says, wistfully, “Every time we come, I keep expecting it to have fallen. But it never has.” I’m a bit confused. What hasn’t fallen? Then I see the boulder, balanced on the slope of the nearest hill. I hadn’t noticed it before. (Did you, in the first photo?)
My guess is that it’s going to stand there for ages to come. After all, it’s got a much bigger rock underneath, holding it up.
God, forgive us for allowing our cultural value of independence to override your eternal intention for us to be connected to each other. You have created us to need community. Help us to be humble enough to ask for help and faithful in giving it, that we may all stand in the midst of the challenges we face.