Recently I came across some fascinating statistics about Mount Everest. I’ve always admired mountain climbers, the preparation, discipline and training required, and the incredible vision for an adventure they all seem to have. However, once I saw the statistics I found greater respect for them. Whilst at Everest’s base camp, for instance, climbers can already begin to show signs of altitude sickness. Then there is the reality that once the climbers reach above 8,000 metres they enter something called the “death zone” where oxygen levels are dangerously low, making it difficult for the human body and brain to function normally. It’s in this zone that a person will die if they stay too long. The British Medical Journal has gathered together records from 1921-2006 and these statistics tell us that of the 8,030 climbers that have ascended Everest, 212 have died on the slopes of the mountain. But what’s most interesting is that the vast majority lose their lives on the way down, not on the way up. Only 17% of the deaths occurred whilst ascending Everest, with a staggering 56% occurring during the descent (the other deaths occurring outside the “death zone”).
Living is stressful. This probably isn’t news to you. But there are different levels of stress, and they are caused by all kinds of different factors. Moving house is stressful. Losing a loved one is stressful. Raising kids is stressful. Even getting married, and preparing for the happiest day of your life, is stressful. But these are usually moments in our lives that come and go. The problems come when we stay stressed for long periods of time – when our lives become one great pattern of stressful exchanges that will inevitably leave us, and often those around us, broken and burnt out. The reality for those climbing Everest is that too much time spent at the top, within the “death zone”, leads to a dangerous and rushed descent. The same is true for us. We can have these peak moments of exceptional performance or busyness, but we have to take the time to get back to normality. The “death zone” cannot be our ‘normal’ for obvious reasons.
The Bible speaks a great deal about this. It is no accident that Israel was given a calendar by God, with a rest day integral to it. It is no accident that into the pattern of harvesting and planting, an entire season was given over to the land to rest (Exodus 23:11). And it was not surprising that Elijah when spending too long working at 110%, found himself broken and burnt out at the foot of a broom bush (1 Kings 19:3-4). We are human beings with incredible God-given potential and ability but, like Elijah, we must respect our limitations if we truly want to impact the world over the course of a lifetime, and not merely a season.