Twenty years ago, just after daylight on a pleasant October morning, I stepped off with great anticipation and 72 miles ahead of me. My wife and 9-month old son drove away. The goal was to backpack the Sheltowee Trace from Pickett State Park, TN to Cumberland Falls State Park, KY in 3 days.
A few kind people sponsored that hike to benefit the ministry I founded becoming the first Backpack for BENCHMARK. I still have a few really clear mental snapshots of that trip…and some stories too.
The original plan was 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not the Sheltowee. Days before that 1995 hike, Hurricane Opal thrashed it’s way from Central America through New England. In her entire path, lay massive destruction and the Smokies, including the Appalachian Trail, took a hit.
Only days before the start, major adjustments were made in that original plan. Ain’t that just like life?
I have 20 years of profound memories hoofing almost 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, hiking multiple sections, multiple times, with the more than 50 people on what we now call the Chuck Wilson Memorial Backpack for BENCHMARK. Many of them have great memories too.
(And as you know, not only do plans change but time changes life too. This year during the CW BfBAM that 9 month old son was away at college with 2 high schoolers and a middle schooler were at home with a sitter.)
It wasn’t long after that first Backpack before those 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies were back in my sites for the second hike. Oh, I prize those first two hikes.
I made space to train. I valued the push, of sweating and learning what my body was capable of doing. To have a body that can. To be privileged enough to have such an adventure as an option. By myself. On my schedule. I could hike as hard as I wanted at whatever pace my body and heart allowed. To stop and take in a view. To corral the emotions, the will, the body to move. To act. To be focused on a demanding goal and reaching it. It still makes me smile.
Adventures like those have helped me to see more clearly who I really am.
But after 2 years of working hard, I was weary of working that hard and not sharing the journey with someone else.
What I missed was the shared experience. Shared joy. Shared discomfort. Shared accomplishment. Shared memories. And therein lies a tension between individual and group, private and public. This tension is a life tension.
Individual / Private <————> Group / Public
If I am alone too much, that can become debilitating…isolating. If I’m not alone enough, then those around me suffer. Both are good…in good measure.
There is a much to be gained with focus on the individual / private (emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical). There too is much to be gained with focus on the group / public (social, work, government).
If I clamor for the group as my primary focus then I lose the intimacy of aloneness, the time for me to really see myself as I am. I need time to be quiet, to let my mind wander and settle. I can easily miss the nudge of the Spirit of God because I won’t allow myself the space to hear.
What I know is that I’m responsible to God to live out my abilities and inabilities serving Christ for His Kingdom. I’m challenged to be a good and faithful servant. My over active sense of responsibility has created problems at times. My heart has been questioned. My ideas ignored.
I have watched many groups stifle the great, bold ideas of an individual. Their own fear, insecurity and pride just didn’t allow them to see the possibilities. They were much more comfortable with the least common denominator.
I get it. I’ve had some similar bold ideas. And I’ve stifled more than a few of other people’s ideas in the last 20 years.
While I have watched more than a minimal amount of television over the years, surfing the web and watching something else DVRed…it doesn’t “test” me. It’s OK to relax but my life shouldn’t revolve around the next digital screen image.
Do I spend much of life watching other people do stuff or am I doing, leading and serving? Do I spend too much time doing and not enough time quiet or developing those area of private strength?
All the way back to Genesis work was a part of life. So it’s ok for my physical wellness to smack of work. Just about every health and wellness report from back pain reduction to Alzheimer’s prevention to depression alleviation all have exercise / physical activity in the list. “Work” really is good for us…especially for those of us who work a computer too much of the time. We need action.
If there aren’t times when I get to test my physical capabilities then I’m missing a real opportunity to see where I am…right now. The same can be said of other areas of life.
I can tell you, staying engaged as a husband and father with my family, my most intimate, immediate group is much more of a challenge than backpacking 72 miles in 3 days or even 28 miles in 1 day. Yet I often return a more settled man when I put in some hard miles. I have time to think, to dream, to pray, to just go.
I think I can still backpack 72 miles in 3 days. I think…I can. I think I can. I think I can.
At this point…I think I’ll continue to wrestle with the tensions between individual responsibilities and the needs of the groups I’m involved in. That really is more difficult than 72 miles.