The summer before my high school senior year, I had the opportunity to have one of the
best weeks of my life at a Young Life camp called Frontier. I had great leaders who had been to the camp enough to know that the earlier in the day that you get to your activity, the more enjoyable that activity usually is.
The first morning we were at Frontier.
Our cabin group took a short hike to a high point on the side of the mountain of the world's second tallest public repelling site. Shortly after the ascent and a brief pause to admire one of the most beautiful sun rises we had ever seen we found ourselves in a precarious situation. This cabin of 16 to 18 year old young men found ourselves with harnesses wrapped around our waist and legs, helmets strapped to our heads and work gloves on our hands. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I should've paid attention to the large hole that was between my forefinger and thumb of my right hand.
As we were standing there, all geared up, a 110 pound female college girl was explaining to us how she was going to clip a rope to her and our waists and we were going to walk off the side of this mountain backward. We were told that in order to slow down we were to take our right hand and put it by our spine along our waist. This would act as a break and stop us from descending down the mountain. Then to move down the mountain, we would move our right hand from our spine out to the side of our right hip. While we were making that motion, we were to push off of the mountain with both feet to allow ourselves to free-fall until the rope stopped once again when we put our hand by our spine.
This all looks like a lot of fun especially when you see the military guys doing it in the movies. The problem is I’m afraid of heights. And that 110 pound college girl doesn’t quite seem like a strong enough anchor for this 325 pound high school lineman. Yet after a lot of negotiation and the unwillingness to display a lack of manliness, I begin to descend down the side of this mountain.
Two things became clear quickly.
First - the rope being pressed against your back is only a small part of the friction that is occurring. The majority of the stopping friction occurs as the rope slides between your thumb and forefinger.
Secondly - putting my hand on my spine was not enough friction to stop that rope from slipping across the bare skin of my hand. About halfway down I discovered that if I put my right hand to my left hip. I was able to actually stop and rest for a moment.
Up to this point, I’ve been operating in fear and ignorance of how to repel. But what I had found in the first hundred plus feet of this descent was that I was having a lot of fun. I had also learned how the rhythm of gravity and the friction of the rope worked together. I had figured out how to find some control in a chaotic situation. I had stretched myself and I had grown. And while I am still afraid of heights, there is no repelling site that I will back away from.
Another interesting thing occurred.
The young men that saw me struggle at the top, could barely believe they saw me descend after them, and then marveled as I had found some mastery of repelling by the bottom; they began to take my lead. They recognized I had put myself in an uncomfortable situation and had come out victorious. The remainder of the week, I may not have always been the first to engage in an activity but I was never the last. And all eyes were always watching how I would respond to adversity.
To disciple well you must put yourself in situations where others will see you being stretched.
Humans are always inspired by the underdog story or the tale of triumphs over adversity. Yet tales and experiences don’t have to always be a grand adventure. In fact it’s been 20+ years since I’ve even thought about that experience on the side of the mountain, and how it has impacted me in my leadership. It was literally two hours of my life. Yet I can use it today to remind myself and inspire you. When was a moment in your life, big or small, that you remember being stretched and coming out different on the other side?
Go, and outlive your limits!