The Plateau

The Plateau

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We live in France, in the Jura Mountains. The Jura (as in Jurassic Park) are a long, low line of mountains which run in a north south axis just a little way to the west of the Alps. It's a beautiful area. It has a certain softness to it, that is to say that the mountains are not as huge and high and jagged as the Alps themselves, or indeed the Rockies. A visiting friend once likened them to salt-dough hills made by a giant toddler. He certainly had a point, these massive, heavily forested limestone blocks and ridges are creased with the most extraordinary folds and fissures.

Their very impenetrability makes them one of the best kept secrets of France. We don't get many tourists, and though the regional economy could do with a boost, the locals claim they like to keep the area to themselves. It's certainly a lot easier to go around the Jura Mountains than to go through them. The few roads that do cross them snake along the deep and largely sunless valley floors, and the narrow roads that zig-zag up the steep flanks of the pine and beech clad gorges are not for the faint hearted. But then, all of a sudden, you reach the plateau.

The change is dramatic. Everything opens right up, and you are basking in bright sunshine, buffeted by the wind, and in winter, lashed by rain or buried beneath the snow. The immensity of the sky is staggering, spread over the wide, rolling wooded hills and grassy, flower-filled prairies.


It's the Hauteville Plateau and it's beautiful. Maybe not as dramatic as the high Alpine peaks and ridges, but still it is quietly and hugely beautiful, and also hugely empty. The stillness is broken by the sigh of the wind, and the desolate cries of eagles and buzzards and the faint jangle of cow-bells. The small communities which do exist are few and far between, and you can stumble over the traces of old settlements where people tried to make a go of it and then gave it up as a bad job. There is only one real town, Hauteville itself, which grew up around France's very first TB sanatorium, built in the 19th century and chosen for it's airy and isolated location. It still functions as a hospital centre, but now it specialises in surgery and post-operative re-education, including physical therapy for many world class athletes. However, you wonder for how much longer, as more and more of the huge buildings stand empty.

So what is it about a plateau that people don't like?

It's interesting that we use the term “plateau” to describe a blockage, an impasse: “I've reached a plateau”. In other words, I'm stuck, I don't seem to be going anywhere, I've lost my direction, I'm in limbo. A plateau seems to exist in a sort of geographical vacuum, and it's not just “nature” that abhors a vacuum, we do too.

Have you noticed how. for the most part, we define ourselves by what we do, by our primary activities. We'll proudly say: I'm a CEO, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, or I'm a soldier, a footballer, a student, a nurse, a truck driver. Perhaps with a certain amount of reluctance we'll admit that we're retired, that we're “just” a stay at home Mom, or out of work, no, let's re-phrase that, we're “in between” jobs. Maybe this explains why we don't cope too well when we really do find ourselves without a defining activity.

Even as believers whose lives have been entirely redefined by our new birth in Jesus Christ, we don't find it easy to accept that it is enough simply “to be” a child of God. We live in such an image conscious world, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of boosting ourselves daily in the mirror of social media. We're all too eager to take on a new list of titles and “worthy” activities: I'm a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a Choir member, a prison visitor...

Hold on there, wait a moment, wait. There are times in all of our lives when God requires that we do just that... Wait. He says, be still and know that I am God. Be still.

We have to stop talking to hear what God wants to say to us; we have to have empty hands in order to receive what God wants to give us; we have to lay down our own agendas in order to be available to do His will. This is often far from comfortable, we can panic at the mere thought of giving up our most prized possession, the person whom we want others to think we are...

On my desk is a framed text given to me many years go when I was a brand new Christian. Depending on the current state of my desk, it's more or less visible, but every time it surfaces, it challenges me anew. Yes, you guessed right, it's: “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. It challenges me because I am not good at being still. Like so many of us, I pride myself on being a “busy” person. “If you want someone to do something, ask a busy person.” That expression just about sums me up. So when I find myself without energy, motivation, inspiration, call it what you will, I feel deeply uncomfortable. I want do something, anything, but that is precisely the problem. We can so easily overfill our lives with the doing of “things”, things that make us feel good, valuable, important, and so on. When God takes these things away we become aware that these are often only props for our fragile egos.

Here's another scripture to keep in mind, that fits hand in glove with the last one. It's Isaiah 30:15 “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” In this passage God was speaking to the Israelites and, sad to say, they were not willing to wait, not willing to trust Him, and it led to their dispersion and virtual destruction.

So, back to our plateau, and its celebrated sanatorium... When people go or get sent to the Hauteville Plateau, it's designed to be a time apart from their normal lives. They go to receive treatment, to rest and recuperate from illness or accident, to be healed. However, to really move forward, they then need to commit to a time of intensive training specifically designed to rebuild their strength. That training isn't easy and can be uncomfortable if not downright painful but... it is essential for each one if they wish to make the most of the rest of their lives.

When we find yourself “stuck” on a spiritual or emotional plateau, are we willing to simply wait on God, or are we in too much of a rush to get back down to the busy centres of civilisation, to start “doing” things too soon... The patients who heal the fastest have found a right balance between patience and perseverance. Perhaps God knows that you've needed to submit to some heavenly or indeed physical surgery, to repair your damaged soul or body. Trust him for the time it takes to heal that damaged part, and then trust him, too, for the time it will take to exercise that repaired part, and renew both your spiritual and physical stamina before you return to the fray. And not just any old fray, but the specific calling that God has for you at this particular time of your life, the certainty of which can only come out of a place of perfect trust, that you are his child, chosen and cherished.

So, if you find yourself temporarily “becalmed”, then don't fret about it. Enjoy the peace of the plateau. Listen to the whisper of the wind, the soft words of the Holy Spirit. Enjoy being able to spend some precious time apart from the world. Let go of the compulsion to be busy. Dare to disconnect your iPad, your iPod and your iPhone; dare to be still and know that the great I AM is indeed your God. Quieten your mind, trust in Him, and He will be both your salvation and your strength.