Earlier in March, I spent a day with my Clergy Covenant Group hiking a portion of the Palmetto Trail. All ministers are expected to be involved in continuing education and one option is to be part of a monthly small group gathering of peers for discussion of ministry issues and mutual support. My group prefers to have its discussions outdoors while on the trail, or sitting around a fire or dinner table afterwards.
Our coordinator’s email said the hike would be strenuous, but only 3.5 miles long, which was good since the weather called for a mixture of rain and sleet for the area. Actually the Blue Wall passage is 13.5 miles long. He forgot to type the “one”, and we just went right along with it.
So, our two to three hour hike up and down a mountain turned into an all day hike, half of it in mist and half in light sleet. For me, it was a real struggle. About six miles into the hike my thigh muscles began to lock up with cramps. It became painful to take each step. I had made a common amateurish mistake – in the cold weather I didn’t keep drinking water and my body had become dehydrated – and thus, my leg muscles rebelled.
If I had been alone, I would have been in a crisis situation in the wet cold. Fortunately, my fellow hikers stepped in to see me through. One took my back pack to carry and another took my camera. Another replaced my bottle of plain water with one containing electrolytes, and someone gave me a banana to eat. I was handed a walking stick to steady myself and then they all slowed the pace to match mine.
We trudged along and a couple miles later I was doing OK, tired, but my legs were working again. Feeling bad about the incident, I apologized to my friends. “What do you mean?” one said, “It’s just pay-back for the times you’ve carried our stuff.” I still felt foolish for not staying hydrated, but I left it at that, and just said a word of thanks.
Lessons from the day had me thinking not just about hiking, but also about life together as God’s family in the Church. First of all, check the route and distance for yourself! Are you relying on someone else’s preparations for life or have you taken care of it yourself?
Secondly, stay hydrated! I thought I was doing fine, but my body desperately needed water. Likewise, in our faith walk, a lot of people think they can do without worship and Bible study, and still maintain spiritual strength. Guess who’s going to end up with spiritual cramps?
Thirdly, be honest with your companions. I had to stop, admit my mistake and say, “I can’t keep on like this.” That opened me up to receive the help they were glad to offer. But how often in our church life do we mistakenly keep the problem to ourselves out of pride, stubbornness, or whatever?
And finally, be ready to step in and take action. Truthfully, my companions had to “take” my pack from me. With dehydration and the early stages of hypothermia, one’s thinking isn’t always clear and rational. They took a no-nonsense attitude with me to get me back on track.
Admittedly, this is a tough one in the church. Most of us don’t want to “intrude” or seem to be judgmental. Yet, there are times when our companions are obviously not thinking clearly, times when we see they’ve neglected the basics, or maybe times when their behaviors signal a pending crisis. Is God’s grace strong enough in us to step forward and risk involvement? For the sake of the other person, are we willing to do as my companions on the trail did for me? It’s amazing the difference one person makes.