About a year or so ago, some friends and I, went to a ropes course. On site there were several courses at varying heights. The lowest challenges, called Exploration Courses were 10ft off the ground. The more difficult challenges, called Conqueror Courses were much higher, about 35ft high. I was excited to get on the course, and I had a good reason to be, I wanted a do-over. You see I was disappointed in myself when I previously tried doing a few rope challenges at Ganderbrook Christian Camp. This was twenty years ago but I still remember how nervous I was getting through the challenges. Nervous for really no reason. During the challenges I was always harnessed, and a good friend was my belayer. The belayer holds your rope in case you fall. They effectively catch you by counterbalancing your body weight. There was no reason to worry and yet I struggled for every inch of that course. It was the first time I felt a genuine fear of heights. A new ropes course was a chance to overcome that fear.
As a youth I was never afraid of heights. In the neighborhood where I grew up, I climbed every tall tree I could find. My fondest memory of climbing trees was a particularly tall pine. The pine grew alongside a small private school and bordered the property of a friend’s house. I never knew how tall it was, but Pines can get to be 150-210ft high. Pine is a tricky tree to climb free hand. Pines have a whorled growth pattern which means each layer of branches grows around the circumference of the trunk, in a ring shape. Pines are also usually sticky with sap and the branches can be brittle. My Father taught me to always keep three points of contact when climbing trees. This made it so that if a branch broke, you were supported by the others. It worked and I never fell from a tree. Getting to the top of that great pine was challenging, but worth it. I stood on some of the tiniest and highest branches as the tree swayed back and forth in the wind. I loved climbing that tree, so you can understand why I felt the need to redeem myself on the ropes course. As I got older, I became nervous about climbing, and it was time to get over it.
We started the ropes course at the lowest difficulty. The ground was close, and you really didn’t feel any anxiety. Jumping off would not have even twisted an ankle. Still, we were connected to a support wire the entire time so there was not any fear of falling. I practically ran through these lower-level challenges. I was taking up the rear, of our line of friends, so I was directly behind them most of the time. When we got to the third highest level, we were now a bit higher off the ground. Still it wasn’t too challenging and I went through pretty easily. It wasn’t until the 4th level, which is one step done from the Conqueror Courses, that things became difficult. It took much more upper body strength to maneuver the course. I wasn’t fearful, but some of it was just tough to cross. That is when “it” happened.
As we were crossing the course the friend in front of me was having a difficult time crossing and needed help finding his way down. Me and the guy in front of him put our heads together to try and help him. We failed horribly. We suggested he swing himself across the wires using the zip line tool we each carried. This was completely wrong and violated the course rules. The ropes challenge in front of him was a series of 2×4’s with pegs to put your feet on. The challenge required step out onto the first peg and pulling the next one with a hand so you could get the other foot on it. Putting weight on the pegs made you very unbalanced so it required a bit of upper body strength to accomplish it. Our friend started the challenge okay but slammed into the 2×4’s and got stuck dangling 35 feet off the ground. After he got stuck a course helper came, helped our friend off the course, and yelled at us for using the wrong equipment. She was totally in her rights to do so, obviously.
How did we come up with such an incredible blunder? I’ve thought about it for a while, because we gave such poor advice, and it didn’t don on any of us to just call for help. The staff were there for just that reason. Were we being bullheaded, stubborn, or too proud? I do not think we were being any of those. I am not one of those guys who refuses to ask for direction. In fact, I sense we are lost at all, I am quick to stop and ask someone or look at my phone guide. Instead, I think we fell into a mental trap. Remember these courses stress your body, but there is also a bit of mental stress because of the fear of falling. The courses train you to constantly be thinking about how to cross. I think we just got too focused on completing the task that we lost sight of safety and the comradery of the adventure. People say, don’t take your eyes of the goal, but in this case that was the problem. When you are part of a community whether it is an outing with friends, a business, or congregation, or a family, we might want to be careful the goal does not cause us to lose sight of people’s needs and safety. I think there are likely a myriad of ways we could apply this. The ends does not justify the means.
One of the things Jesus reveals about himself, is his capacity to accomplish the goals of God without alienating or dismissing the humanity of those he encounters. Jesus can use challenging words sometimes, such as with the pharisees, but he had this amazing capacity to see the human being as he spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. So I feel like I have learned a lesson from this ropes course. Next time I won’t be rushing to my goal. May God help us not lose sight of the goal, but also to remain present for this ongoing adventure.