I’m a mountain girl. I’ve never met one I didn’t like. Rocky, Appalachian, young and rugged, old and mellow, snow-covered and forbidding or glorified rolling hills, I don’t discriminate. I want to stand on top of them all. Not one has ever scared me or underwhelmed me. And certainly, none have ever made me want to race back to the valley floor.
Until I met Chief.
I think most of the team had a “come to Jesus” moment on that mountain. For some, it was traversing the 3ft wide narrow rock ledge 9,000 ft above sea level to get to the final summit that spurred on fervent prayers. For others, the mere idea of spending three days away from toilets and mattresses was enough to ask God for an extra dose of strength and patience. However, I love camping, and I live for that “on top of the world” feeling when even the clouds are below you. No, I met my match on the Scree Slope.
Picture a gravel driveway made with the sharpest, slippery, dusty, breakable rocks you can imagine. Now tilt that driveway upward at about…well, straight up. For a mile. That’s a scree slope. Sounds like fun, right? 😉 Going up the scree slope was not the problem; it was a physical challenge but not one I couldn’t tackle. It was on the way down from Chief’s summit that I once again found myself standing at the top of the scree with one horrible realization: I had to go back down it.
I love to be in control – of my schedule, of my food, of my workouts, of my routine. If any of my plans or routines are changed without my permission or control, I freak out a little. A lot. Depends. Don’t mess with my mealtimes. I might have to eat you instead.
But you get the point. The only way to master going down a scree slope is to let yourself just go with the flow of the rocks, to ,in a way, let yourself lose control. At that moment, I looked forward and all I could see were mountain peaks poking out of the clouds. I looked down and the scree slope seemed endless; the ridge below was covered up by fog at that moment. And every one of my muscles froze. I was paralyzed. I was going to be stuck on this mountain forever because I couldn’t do what was necessary to get to the bottom of that God-forsaken mile of glorified gravel 9,000 ft above sea level. There was no carved out, meticulously planned route of safety. If I was ever going to get to solid ground again, and to a place where I had control over this hike, I had to just go for it.
Jesus heard a lot from me over the next 30 minutes.
“Love” is a funny word, isn’t it? I can use the same word to describe my affection for properly roasted Brussels sprouts as I can for how I feel about my family. We hear that word tossed around in the gay marriage debate on both sides: Either “love will win” or “if you love someone you won’t let them live in sin.” Makes things kind of confusing when everyone is constantly fighting for “love.” But how often do we really, truly love people the way we are called to?
God calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I know an awful lot about myself. I know what I’m good at, what my strengths are, but I also know all the negatives. I know my flaws and my darknesses but I still love myself. How often do we love other people that way? How often do we even give ourselves the opportunity to love others that way?
On the Blackfeet Reservation, I saw a willingness to be vulnerable that I’m not use to. I would ask the barista at the coffee shop how they were doing, and 5 minutes later I’d have their whole life story. Honestly, I just wanted to get in and get out of there before all the ice melted in my coffee. I’m use to people responding with “I’m doing well” and then moving on. I wasn’t prepared for a saga.
But our culture is different than theirs; we value efficiency, and they value relationships. I rarely take the time to sit down with someone and listen to their story because I have a long to-do list of items I think are more important. The Blackfeet will talk with you for so long that you feel like all four seasons must have happened, twice, before the conversation ends.
They were open to sharing their stories with utter strangers because they wanted to be known. They, like all of us, desired to be loved despite their flaws, but they had an unusual willingness for people to actually know their flaws.
We are all flawed. That’s the nature of sinful humanity. But I think that sometimes we believe that if we don’t tell anyone our flaws, those flaws won’t exist. That then people can love us because they don’t know all of the things wrong with us. But that’s not really love.
What I also saw among the Blackfeet was, along with a willingness to be known, they desired to know others. If I received someone else’s story, there was an unspoken obligation to tell my own. Which is scary. By telling your story, you give someone complete power to either love you, or reject you. And they might choose rejection.
If we are to learn to truly love people better, we have to be willing to take that scary first step down the scree slope of letting other people have control of their opinions of us. We have to be willing to let them see our whole story. Without that, we can’t expect to receive their story. And without knowing others’ stories, we can’t really love them.
I’m not saying it’s necessary to pour our lives into everyone we meet; we all do still have long to-do lists. After all, Jesus thoroughly invested himself in only 12 people. And those 12 people went on to change the world.
Sometimes, we reach a point in our lives when we’re standing on top of a scree slope. The only two options are to stay where we are, unchanged, or to take that one step forward, to be the vulnerable ones so that others might be willing to be vulnerable with us.