Several years ago I read Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air. It’s the story of a climbing expedition on Mt Everest gone wrong. It’s terrifying and riveting and somehow by the end made me think, “I could do this. I could climb Everest.”
Obviously, I was clueless. In addition to delusional. But I thought, with the right guides, the right equipment, and of course, the crazy amount of money it requires, this dream just might be attainable.
The fact that I actually thought this is what makes real climbers so ticked off. Because in a lot of ways, Everest has become a commercialized sensation. Maybe not me, but people like me with a hankering for an adventure and a great story, want to tackle the mountain, and can.
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand said this about these mountaineer wannabe’s:
“…you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”
Why? Because these people want to experience the destination without participating in the journey. And the journey in mountain climbing, and in just about everything in life, is hard. It’s about so much more than just a means to an end. In fact, the journey may be the end we never knew we were aiming for.
In high school I had a sort of spiritual crisis and it all centered around me being unable to remember the year, the day, the moment I had “asked Jesus to come into my heart”—a big deal in the brand of evangelical Christianity I grew up in. I panicked. I had been baptized—also a big deal—and remember taking the decision to do that really seriously, but I couldn’t pin point the moment when I had prayed what seemed like a magic prayer.
And isn’t that point of it all? To get to the moment where I clinch the deal? To have a moment where I’m certain my salvation is secure? Where the box is checked? Isn’t the objective to be able to say, “I did it! I’m saved!”
When it came to my faith, I thought for a long time it was. Which was why I felt like I was in a spiritual tailspin when I couldn’t remember a time where it all fell into place. What did that mean for me if I wasn’t sure when it happened?
The last thing I wanted was to feel like I had journeyed so far and never reached a destination. Because the destination, in life, so often feels like the point.
Except, now, I am starting to feel like that just isn’t true. Or at least not like I thought it was.
These days I’m starting to think that when all we’re concerned about is reaching a destination in our faith, or anything else in life, sometimes we end up circumventing growth. We care so much about the end, the goal, that we disregard the journey that got us there in the first place—and maybe more importantly—the journey we embark on after the fact.
But life is rarely static. Not in relationships or in faith. We are not working towards a dot on a map, but participating in a sustaining march, forward. At least, that’s what I’m starting to think. And I’m afraid if all we do is see faith and life as a particular end in mind, we devalue the journey and don’t end up changing all that much. In the words of Yvon we start and end…well, you saw what he said. The point is, when we don’t participate in the journey, we don’t end up all that different, because we don’t see ourselves involved in a movement. We see ourselves having arrived at a destination.
But what if life was about something bigger? What if faith was about something more meaningful? What if our salvation is in the dirty work and hard work of day in and day out change? What if the very stuff that drives us crazy, is actually saving us? What if the best stuff of life, the stuff that makes us who we ultimately want to be is found in the laying your sleeping bag out, in carrying your ropes, in positioning the ladders, what if it’s in doing all the work that doesn’t feel much like climbing at all, that you become an actual climber?
Early on, Christianity wasn’t called Christianity. It was called, The Way. And I think that’s because early Christians understood something we may have lost sight of. That the way is the point. Not a destination. Not a moment. But a day in, day out doing the stuff that doesn’t feel spiritual or big or meaningful, but actually ends up making us who we were created to be, making us into followers of Jesus far more than any two minute prayer—I can’t remember anyway—ever could.
I think Yvonn was right. Truthfully, I’m afraid he is. And that means the non-glamorous faith life—of selflessness and compassion, of forgiveness and love, of humility and peace—that those matter. That to be a follower of The Way, I have to be walking on the way, every chance I get. That I might not get a mint on my pillow, by I’ll get something far better. The experience of becoming a climber, rather than the one time moment of saying, “I have climbed.”