The last time I’d actually spent time climbing was just about two years ago, just before my son’s wedding. It was on that trip that both elbow and shoulder started bothering me, with little aches and big ones, annoying enough that by the end of the day the rock had stopped being fun.
And so I’d stopped being on the rock. Weeks became months, became two years. The whole time, I banished thoughts of climbing because “the last time I did it” wasn’t pleasant.
Negative experiences are like that. You have one, and it takes over, preemptively disqualifying you from all future attempts as the ghost of the past imposes that negative experience on your future.
“I tried running and got injured. If I do it again, I’ll just get injured again”
“I tried to find intimacy with Jesus but my prayer life sputtered; life got hard and I quit. Not worth the effort…”
“The last time I was honest with my spouse led to a big blow up.”
“I submitted an article, but never heard back from the publisher.”
“I hit a snag learning that language and set it aside… it’s too hard.”
“I’m sick of succumbing to my addiction, but sicker still of trying to beat it and failing… I surrender”
All these scripts are lies, because they’re all rooted in the common deception that tells us: “Past behavior is the best indicator of future results” HR departments roll this little line out when interviewing people, reminding us that transformation rarely happens, that who we’ve been in the past, is who we are destined to be.
If I believed that, I’d have quit my job as a pastor and Bible teacher long ago. I’ve kept going because I believe in transformation, because there are endless stories of movement in both the bible and history as –
1. Judah moves from the jealous, hard hearted, hating brother, to the one willing to lay down his life for his youngest sibling.
2. David moves from a posture of catastrophic failure to confession, hope, joy.
3. Peter moves from fear and arrogance, to bold humility.
4. Zacheus moves from greedy to generous.
5. The Samaritan woman moves from despised outsider to friend of Messiah.
6. The woman caught in adultery moves from the death sentence to worshipper of Jesus.
7. Abraham Lincoln moves from multiple losses to extradorniary president.
8. Esther moves from obscure woman, to savior of Israel.
9. Lindsay Vonn moves from horrific ski injury to amazing comeback
If the gospel is true, then these important statements are also true:
I am not my failures
I am not my injuries, emotional or physical
I am not the script handed me by my culture to keep me an insecure little consumer, always looking for the next purchase for comfort.
Who am I then? I’m new in Christ. I’m complete in Christ. And I’m on a journey of transformation in Christ. This transformation piece includes, at various times, body, soul, and spirit – and my presumption that who I was yesterday is who I will always be is the lie that needs to be exposed. This will require faith, and the risk to try again.
Last January I undertook the one hundred push up challenge, and pressed myself toward the goal of being able to do one hundred push-ups in a single set. That process, I think, strengthened by arms, but I still hadn’t done any climbing, presuming that if I did, I’d replay my last climbing experience.
Then, two weeks ago here in Austria, I went out with the leaders for their training day on the rocks. And climbed. Injury free. I did it again yesterday, this time with the students – and I’m not even sore! The entire experience has me thinking long and hard about the reality of transformation in our lives, and how often we subvert our own progress by simply self selecting out of the arena where our best life is meant to be lived.
Here, then, our my own take aways:
After failure – learning and recovery. This is a necessity because if we keep doing the same things over and over again, we’ll likely see the same results. This doesn’t matter if it’s a running injury, and a dysfunctional marriage, or broken staff at your job. When there’s a problem we need to become learners, and change the input that lead to the problem. In the past year I’ve been learning to do this as a leader, as a runner, and now as a climber.
If you’re too proud to admit you have a problem though, then you have a problem than can’t be fixed, because your denial will entrench you in your bad habits.
If you’re too complacent in the midst of your problem to look for a solution, then you also have bigger problem than your problem. You have a deplorable lack of curiosity, and that too will entrench you in bad habits.
But if you fail, and then learn, and then do the hard work of recovery (one hundred push up challenge in my case), then what’s happening is called the miracle of transformation. It requires, though, this inexorable belief that tomorrow’s carries with it the possibility, even the hope, of transformation. Can you believe that? I hope so, because that’s the story God wants to write in your life.
After learning and recovery – Try again (don’t skip watching this video!!)
Downhill skier Lindsay Vaughn suffered a ridiculous crash, at the downhill world cup, about 400 meters from where I’m sitting as write this.
I once watched a documentary about her recovery from that injury. In it she offers us a line that applies to all of life. “Crashing is part of my sport… if you can’t get over it, you should probably stop skiing.” Crashing is part of preaching, part of leading, part of climbing, part of loving, part of parenting, part of everything worth doing. “Risk free” is becoming one of my least favorite phrases in the world, because the only thing that’s risk free is the inevitability of our decay.
Every thing worth doing has risk. So if you fall but you’re called to walk, get up and try again. If you’re called to love, but you got hurt. Learn by all means, but risk loving again. Risk climbing again. Risk generosity, joy, truth telling.
I climbed yesterday, fell often, failed to make it to the top of a climb I thought I’d complete. But I climbed, and while I was on the rock, I was reminded that this is part of who I am, but that it’s a part of me I’d let atrophy because the ghosts of failure sat on my shoulder and whispered words of doubt. Those ghosts died yesterday, and I’m grateful.