I recently traveled the distant highways of Southern Colorado near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sage colored sierra, peering above the horizon, overlooks an open range below. A network of two lane roads criss-crosses the landscape under the shadow of the jagged peaks. I drove through solitary spaces, passing the occasional weather-worn barn and abandoned cabin. A sign along the highway beckoned me to stop at a point of interest. I decided to pull in and have a look.
The sage colored sierra, peering above the horizon, overlooks an open range below.
Nearly 200 hundred years ago a small settlement existed there. The hardy settlers who stayed, built the small town in a square configuration to defend against potential attacks from the neighboring Ute and Arapaho tribes. A trading post established in the early 1840s, it was far removed from the well traveled Santa Fe Trail; too far, apparently. Within 10 years the settlement had all but disappeared. Its danger and remoteness were enough to extinguish the once vibrant possibilities. Destined to be a tale on the fringe of history, it had an unceremonious ending. They called the town Hardscrabble.
The word “hardscrabble” first appears in the July 1804 Journals of The Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was a term invented to refer to a place where living comes with a great deal of hard work and struggle. Considering the history and demise of the town, Hardscrabble, Colorado seems to have lived up to its name. It’s not surprising that those who lived there eventually left in search of an easier existence. I understand. Most of us would have done the same. Why deliberately choose a more difficult and challenging livelihood?
But there must have been a time where the beauty of the landscape and the surrounding mountains seemed to make the struggle more worthwhile. When a handful of people came to Hardscrabble with high hopes of the life they might build there. It was a time when their hopes for what could be made them more willing to accept the risks involved.
I began to ponder the places of abandonment in my own life. Workouts never completed. Adventures never taken. Promises unkept. Places where I once believed God meant me to dwell. He gave me a glimpse of what could be. A majestic landscape beckoned me to come and enjoy all it held. But the path leading to it seemed perilous. The dream was deferred until a more opportune moment that never seemed to arrive.
I began to ponder the places of abandonment in my own life.
As I consider the lives of those who have walked closely with God, they were filled with hardscrabble. Over and over, throughout scripture and history we see God cast a beautiful and more expansive vision before those he loves. He shows them what He will do and what they will become. Abraham’s conversations with God, the dreams of Joseph, Moses before the burning bush, the anointing of David, Jesus baptized in the Jordan River. From the mountaintop of inspiration God takes them down a path that seems at best inefficient and at worst contradictory to what He has just shared with them. Abraham with no son at age 99, Joseph in a prison cell, David hiding in caves, Jesus in the desert; not exactly the shortest distance between two points.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
See also: Matthew 10:16—20, Matthew 16:24-26, John 15:18-25
In fact Jesus specifically prays that we will not be delivered from these hardships (See John 17:15). It appears to be a part of His plan for us.
Time and again Jesus says his followers should expect a difficult path. We will struggle and sweat, encounter peril and risk as we walk in his footsteps along hardscrabble trails.
It’s not a popular message in our culture, not even among his followers. Jesus indicates that there is no such thing as a disciple who does not experience the same hardships he endures.
Even as I say this, I can hear the question in my own head “Shouldn’t Jesus make our lives easier?” “Aren’t there verses about that too?”
But, here’s the rub: Jesus also promises us peace, comfort, and rest.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
How can we reconcile these two realities?
The answer is that one is internal and the other external. Jesus can and does make our burdens lighter. He gives us rest. He takes our broken condition and makes us whole. He loves us completely. But there is more to redemption than just our own well being.
Only those who have experienced His perfect love and healing will be strong enough to do as He has done; specifically to lay down their lives for the world around them. He will give us the internal condition that will be needed to accomplish the external mission.
It’s the paradox of following Him; inner wholeness and outer brokenness…
The problem is that as His followers, we have tried to walk hardscrabble trails without maintaining the inner life that makes that kind of sacrifice possible.
If we are to experience the life God intends for us, we must embrace both. It’s the paradox of following Him; inner wholeness and outer brokenness--a measure that must be taken as He works His transformation in the world.
Visions, like ghost towns, are sometimes abandoned too soon.
I’ve abandoned a few myself. Maybe they were too hardscrabble. Perhaps my own impatience or the covetousness of naysayers pushed me from the places I was meant to inhabit. Maybe you, like me, have dreams that need to be revived. If so, let’s explore together what it means to have Hardscrabble Faith.