The other day I found myself in a conversation with a youth ministry colleague who asked; “Why did you step away from youth ministry and suddenly pick up hiking?” For which I replied kindly; “You must not know me well enough, I didn’t ‘suddenly’ pick up hiking.”
Long before I stepped into youth ministry, I stepped into the outdoors. I was born with a desire, a silent constant calling within me to be outside.
It was a summer day and school had just gotten out. All my friends were riding their bikes around the neighborhood, playing baseball or constructing elaborate fortresses out of sticks and rocks for their G.I. Joe full size action figure with kung-fu grip. I was in shin deep water that was rushing past me and mud squishing between my toes, a net in one hand and a bucket in the other. Bent over with my reflection glaring back at me for which I paid no attention to, for I had more pressing matters at hand. I was chasing a crayfish that darted under a rock and I was bound to catch him to add to my collection of already captured tadpoles, sunny’s and baby catfish being housed in a fish tank on our back porch.
Later that summer I would explore the endless trails in the woods near our house. In my pre-teen brain and imagination the trails were endless taking me to places of grand adventure. I was a fearless hiker on a mission to see and watch any creature my eyes and hears were alert to, but in reality those woods were small only leading to the other side of our suburban NJ neighborhood. But what did I care, I was in the woods. I’d build grand shelters I read about in my dad’s old boy scout handbook from tree branches and logs and would dream of camping in them for a night. But suburbia NJ woods is no a place for a 12 year old to be spending the night no matter how much I craved it. Instead my parents would allow me to construct shelters from an old large piece of tent canvas, rope, long branches I found in the woods, lawn chairs and some camping gear we had in the garage. There I would invite my friends to camp out for the night staying up all hours. Sure it was in our yard under a tree, just under my parents bedroom so they could keep an ear out for us, but to me it was camping. I was outside having an adventure.
When school started again in September I found myself, along with my brother joining a local Boy Scout Troop. What made it even cooler was my dad also signed up and became one of our troops scout masters. Each week we’d attend our scout troop meetings. I understood we needed to have those meeting, it’s what prepared us for everything we were learning to “be prepared” like tying knots and earning our merit badges, but meetings weren’t my thing. Funny thing is, now I know why meetings were my least favorite thing while I was in youth ministry. I didn’t like them as a kid and I don’t like them now. Yes, they are essential, but sometimes we can spend more time discussing what we want to do or need to do instead of actually doing it. I don’t know about you, but I have found myself staring out the window more then once during a meeting that seems to be going nowhere because no one can agree. But let’s move on…
It was November, cold, a light snow was on the ground and it was our first Boy Scout Camporee. I was loving every minute of it. At night with flashlights in hand we ran, crawled and stealth-fully crept through the woods playing capture the flag. When I went to bed I took a rock from the fire ring wrapped in a damp old towel and laid it at the foot of my sleeping bag. Needless to say, I was warm and toasty. I still remember dinner that night. I thought it was the best meal I had ever eaten, chilli and rice cooked over a fire while sitting on a snow covered log.
Living so close to the Jersey shore most of my friends spent their summers at the beach, not me. Our family vacations since the time I was a toddler consisted of camping. Even later as a teen when my parents bought a simple pop-up trailer I preferred to sleep in my little one man dome tent.
The question from my youth ministry colleague caused me to reflect back on my childhood and bring back fond memories of being outside and no matter what or where we were going it was always an adventure. Being outdoors is where I belong.
So why did I step away from youth ministry? I’ll share that in an upcoming blog post, but did I “suddenly” step into hiking? Well I guess you don’t know me very well. In all my years of youth ministry I would say; “I’m passionate about youth ministry.” Don’t get me wrong, I was. I enjoyed what I did, but I’ve never loved it more then being outside in His creation. Maybe that explains why my best and most memorable years in youth ministry were the times I served in camps and not sheltered inside the walls of a church bogged down with meetings three to four times a week. Even my office was not typical to most of my youth ministry colleagues. Theirs are plastered with the latest posters that appeal to teens and their culture. My office had pictures from trips I’d taken while hiking and decorated with items and nicknacks that looked like a cheap version of a Cabela’s catalog. And for me planning a winter retreat meant looking for a place that looked and felt like camping, cabins and all, not a resort with an indoor pool and wifi. To me a retreat meant exactly what the word’s very definition meant, to retreat from all the “stuff.”
So hiking, camping, backpacking and being outside is not something I “suddenly” stepped into, it’s something that I pushed aside while being caught up in the busyness and business of full time ministry. It’s just taken me some years to wake up and be reminded of what I was born and created to be and I’m loving every minute of what God is teaching me now.
If you’re not content with what you’re doing or who you are. If you’re wrestling inside to the point of it feeling like a battle, a tug of war. Then do yourself a favor and start listening to that small voice whispering to you in the depth of your heart and stop listening to the loud demanding voices ringing in your ears. Because most likely the loud annoying voices are from outside influences getting you to believe you need to follow and conform to what the world and others say you need to be and do in life, while God is whispering the truth inside your heart trying to get you to see who you are in Him.
How many people have made decisions and conformed to the ways of our world and culture, but deep inside are not happy because they know it’s not where God wants them?
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2
So remember, life is one long hiking trip that isn’t meant to be rushed and IS meant to be done with God leading the way.