Now that this summer’s record-setting drought has broken and autumn is nearing, I can turn my mind away from all things sweaty and towards the fun of fall and wonders of winter. Perhaps my favorite part of winter is my annual skiing/snowboarding trip.
Being a Midwesterner who has to drive at least eight hours before seeing anything that could reasonably be considered a mountain, snow sports were never really a part of my life, unless you count sledding down Art Hill in St. Louis or making snow angels in my parent’s backyard. But when I got to college and made friends from Denver (The Sunshine State…Gorgeous!) who couldn’t shut up about their skiing and snowboarding adventures, I knew I had to give it a try.
I had skied once in high school, but it was in Iowa, so I don’t think we can count that. My friends and I began an annual trip to the mountains for a couple days of boarding, hiking, guitar-playing, and whiskey drinking. All the trips were a blast from start to finish; except for perhaps the first one.
Don’t get me wrong, the first one I went on was amazing, too. It was my first experience of the Rockies, first time ice-fishing, first time listening to elk calling each other in the darkness, first time seeing the stars from an elevation of 10,000 feet. But that was all on Day One. Day Two was when we actually hit the slopes and I tried my hand (feet?) at snowboarding for the first time.
I was terrible. Terrible. My first two runs took the whole morning. At the beginning, I just kept face-planting. Every time I tried to go from heel-side to toe-side, I would catch my front edge and wipe out hard. My face was red and raw after the first five falls, my arms were tired and sore from catching myself when I fell and pushing myself back up afterwards, and my pride was shattered completely as five-year-old girls stopped to ask me if I was okay.
No, I wasn’t okay.
So, after failing miserably on my first couple runs and feeling bad for holding up my friends, I decided to switch strategies. No more toe-side turns. I would just stick to the heel-side, the one that was working, and figure it out from there.
And you know what? It worked.
What happened is that I turned into what my friends termed “a floating leaf”. I would cut diagonally across the run…stop on my heel-side…then point back across the run, go for a bit, and stop on my heel side again. I fell less and was making it down the run more quickly, but my friends said I looked ridiculous. And I’m sure I did. Luckily, being the good friends they are, they were unrelenting in their jokes, and I was inspired to give the right way another shot.
Together, we figured out what my problem was. You see, when you’re snowboarding, you’re supposed to flow from heel to toe, toe to heel, smoothly, back and forth across the run in as big or as small of swoops as you like. But in between each turn, there’s this split second where your board is pointed directly downhill, where you are looking straight down the mountainside at all the other skiers, at all the rocks and trees, at the lift thousands of feet away. And in that moment, you feel like you don’t have control of your board. For one second, you have to commit your weight forward, put your whole self in the scariest direction possible, and trust that you will have enough strength and skill to shift yourself and make the turn.
It was that commitment I was lacking. It was that moment of fear I was avoiding. And by avoiding it, I was missing out on all the fun.
Of course, this is a metaphor for the spiritual life. If we are going to show up on the slopes, if we are going to give it a shot at all, but we aren’t ready to experience a loss of control or we aren’t prepared to risk the pain of falling, the problem isn’t so much that we won’t make it to our destination (maybe we eventually will); it’s that it’s no freaking fun.
There is something terribly human about the call to a life in Christ. It answers the basic questions and desires of our hearts. And our hearts want adventure, want risk, want excitement. But if you’re not willing to let go of control of the situation, it’s not going to have any of that. If you want to be like me and try to do things the safest way possible, you’re going to end up being some goofy-dressed guy standing out in the cold wondering why you’re out there in the first place. It’s only in allowing the fear to have its place that we get the rush of trying something difficult, something that involves the real possibility of failure.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you will get neither.” Living in that place where the fear lives, facing it and allowing it to be a part of our experience without allowing it to control us, that’s not just a recipe for salvation: it’s the recipe for a good life here, too. We have to aim for a life of excellence, a life of battle with demons and performing of miracles and conversion of souls, not just so we get to Heaven, but so that we have the experience our hearts have always been yearning for. If you want to be the nice church lady, go for it; but if you want to be a saint, you have to be all in.
The death of the things of this world doesn’t necessarily mean they go away; it means they lose their control over us. It means we don’t need them anymore. It means we’re not attached. Christ isn’t going to give us a life without fear, but He can give us a life where that fear is not the desperate terror of one who is lost, but the burning risk of one who is alive. He can give us the freedom to experience beauty and goodness and truth. We shackle ourselves when we live within the fear, when we use the fear as an excuse to protect ourselves from pain.
No, we are called to more than that. We are called to the rushing of wind and the tingling excitement as we hurtle headlong into what will either be a crashing catastrophe or the time of our lives.
We are called to Him Who Is all things beautiful and dangerous, to the Creator of the Tiger and the Architect of the Seas.
He is not safe. He is to be feared. But as you fall more in love with Him, as you forget more and more about the pain of your crashes and rejoice more and more in the thrill of relationship with Him, His perfect love casts out the fear and leaves you free to live the adventure you’ve always wanted.