“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about [old Testament heroes] who through faith conquered kingdoms… whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” Heb 11:32-34
Last week, I had the privilege of attending an experiential learning workshop put on by the Jackson Institute in the Teton Village at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our facility was in a lodge at the base of the Jackson Hole ski area, and we went for morning and afternoon runs as part of our workshop.
I enjoy skiing, but don’t ski that much—maybe 15 days since college. In the last few years, the altitude has bothered me more, and I have not been in as good a shape. Last year I skied a day and was exhausted by the end of the day and we quit early.
This year, I had some great coaching, especially from my friend Erik, on how to improve my technique. We skied on intermediate (blue) slopes. I was not getting as worn out, and my skiing ability and confidence began to rise.
In our classroom setting, we discussed a concept called the Comfort Zone. If you can imagine two parallel vertical lines, most of our activities we can plot out as living between the lines of comfort. But growth comes at the edges of comfort. When we cross the line and get out of our comfort zone, that is were growth takes place.
In our last skiing session the second afternoon, the consensus of the group was to get in the tram and go to the top of the mountain, almost a mile above the base. However, there are only black (advanced) trails going down from this location. So ready or not, I was pushed beyond my comfort zone. However, I felt I was in over my head.
How would I respond? Would I build on the growth and success of the easier blue slopes I had been skiing the previous day and a half? Or would I give into my fears, believe the obstacles were too great, and believe that I did not have what it took to make it down this advanced hill?
Honestly, my first response was fear. To successfully make it down, I had to take risks. I needed to jump as I came out of the moguls, twist and alternate turning left and right. I was too afraid to turn, and made wide traverses down the mountain to limit these risky turns. I fell a couple of times.
There is a saying that whatever we believe will happen, will happen. And whatever we don’t think won’t happen wont happen. I proved that was true.
Further down the mountain, we came to a very steep hill. This did not have the moguls of the previous hill, but was steeper than any hill I can ever remember skiing on. I was nervous, but I went. I was successful in descending the first part of the hill, but then I fell, and slid down the mountain headfirst. After continuing to slide a long way, and I realized that I was not going to stop unless I could somehow get my skies below me to dig into the snow, which I eventually did. It was a spectacular and humbling fall in the presence of my colleagues.
Erik appeared and connected with and assured me. I got up, and was able to ski down the rest of the steep slope into the comfort of blue slopes the rest of the way down.
What did I learn from this experience?
Honestly, I was very disappointed in myself for giving way to fear on the black slopes. The very thing I feared came upon me. I believe that I had the ability to rise up to the challenge, but fear overcome faith. To make matters worse, the topic of the workshop included how to deal with our fears by teaching us centering skills, looking beyond the obstacles to the desired outcome, etc. I felt bad that I forgot all these things at the crucial test. I realized that I was a bit traumatized by the event.
As I reflected and prayed about this, I asked Jesus where He was when I was on the first advanced run. In my mind’s eye, I could see Him in me, and saying, “We can do this hard thing together.” I then replayed skiing the moguls with him, and jumping from one bump to the next, and successfully making it to the bottom of the hill.
Now I have a new memory to refer to of going down that slope. I like that one better. That feels like the real me, living out of my true self, not my fearful self.
Then I went to the memory of the second black slope that was very steep. First, when I was able to stop myself, Jesus was there with me. He understood my emotion of feeling like a failure and the humiliation of wiping out in a grand fashion. He worked through Erik to assure me that I was OK and that this fall did not define me. Then Jesus and I replayed skiing from the top and me showing confidence that I could traverse down the hill, and we did it successfully.
In interacting with Jesus further, He told me He was proud of me for taking the risk of getting outside my comfort zone; that most people are not willing to do so, because of the risk of failure—even failing as I failed. He assured me that I would sometime soon be skiing black diamond trails, and that failing this test did not define me; that there would be many more opportunities to learn and grow, and that failure is part of growth.
I thought of the verse above in Hebrews, that “through faith the weak were made strong.” I occurred to me that there was a bigger issue than learning how to be a better skier. I have the opportunity to grow in my faith. Instead of concluding that I should stay away from those black slopes and ski where I am more comfortable, God is inviting me to use this as a growth opportunity to set my fears aside and further develop my abilities and confidence. Now I see blue slopes in a greater context: as the means to grow, so that I can expand into the more challenging black slopes.
I choose not to be traumatized by my weaknesses, but to use them as a means to experience God’s strength showing up in my life.