Have I ever climbed a mountain before? Yes I have, in Montana, over a year ago. Have I ever been married? No. You might be wondering–how are these two things related? I’ll get to that.
Climbing the mountain wasn’t easy. For one thing, I was in another state, far from home, at the mercy of the Montana wilderness, sort of. There wasn’t any visible danger in sight, but bear sightings weren’t unheard of. And another thing, I wasn’t fond of prolonged exercise, or sweating.
With a rifle slung over my shoulder, a sword secured to my belt (why a sword for hiking? I’ll get to that) and my mentor, Branden, a couple yards ahead of me, I leaned into the terrible incline. The sound of snapping wood echoed through the trees as I stepped over fallen branches on the way up the mountain, trees all around me (most of them on our side, but there were trees that could betray us to her). Please catch the reference. Otherwise, I just sound weird.
I climbed this mountain for many reasons. As part of my ongoing journey into aspects of manhood foreign to me, Branden had invited me on this trip to his cousin’s house in Montana where the silence was so thick you could feel the absence of sirens, cars driving by and people talking. Plus, when it got dark, it got dark, like pitch black. Sometime after 8 o’clock, you couldn’t see in front of your nose outside. I was 31-years-old on this trip, and for most of my life, I had avoided meaningful commitments like writing my novel and lacked self-discipline on an unhealthy level. Among other things, I had a mentality of entitlement and victimhood.
Climbing that mountain in the heat of the day in Montana, I was fighting for an opportunity to taste life in a surreal level. At the peak, I looked out to the surrounding wilderness. It was impossible to perceive the distance before me. It was like starring into a mirror with infinity starring back. I felt indescribably small amidst the grandness of God’s creation and humbled in light of my life’s struggles.
Making our way back down the mountain, Branden explained to me that life in the city and life in the wilderness are two essential aspects of existence and they are both worth experiencing and studying in their own right. He said this because I had only known the city life before this trip. I had never truly gotten in touch with nature like this before. The ride back to Washington felt new, filled with possibilities, this profound perspective I was returning with seemed to be the key to living the life I wanted, one of risk and reward. I just had to be brave enough to accept the sacrifices and the consequences along the way, depending on the choices I made.
The point to all of this is without having a healthy perspective on life and how God designed it, we can live our whole lives without really living. We can be consumed with fear, hoping for the rules of life to be written in our favor if we fight hard enough and avoid certain risks. The truth behind it all is that life is risky by nature, and there is no avoiding that.
Remember how I said marriage was related to climbing the mountain? Well, marriage is a mountain–or, rather, it’s a mountain range, full of ups and downs. There is no such thing as a partner that will give you that future without the ups and downs. Pain is unavoidable. Risk is part of the infinite game that is life. I had avoided commitment and disciple for most of my life, thinking that somehow I could sneak around it all and end up in the green pasture where there is only peace. So…not…true.
Life can only be lived by embracing risk, and rewards can only be reached by navigating those risks with a healthy degree of wit and self-confidence, not to mention a relationship with God, the one who made it all from the beginning.
It’s been over a year since that hike up the mountain in Montana. What have I learned? So much! Am I taking life by the horns? Debatable. I haven’t written that novel yet, and I don’t have a girlfriend. Yet. However, the one lesson I am proud to have learned is this–I know how to leave my sword at home.
Let’s Clear Up Something
I had a sword with me on that hike because I wanted to feel capable. Part of me wanted to be a samurai like the hero from those movies, taking on a challenge. Every boy wants to feel adventurous. When boys become men, the way of the warrior is no longer something to be proven; it’s an identity that cannot be taken away.