There's this kind of skiing called "randonee", which means skiing uphill with a free heel and skins on your skis for friction, and then locking your heel down, removing the skins, and skiing back down. I love this stuff, and spent some time this weekend huffing and puffing my way up for a little more than an hour, and then skiing back down in five minutes.
On the way down I met a guy making his way up, and I stopped to check out his equipment and exchange thoughts about bindings, weather, snow conditions, avalanches etc. etc. What a surprise to see, as I drew near, that I'd encountered someone old. No, I mean actually old, which means older than me by nearly three decades, which puts his birth just before the Great Depression. After a few minutes of mountaineering small talk I said, "I've gotta say this: I'm impressed that you're doing this. Do you come up here often?"
"At least once a week" he said. "I'm slower than I used to be, but I still enjoy it." When I asked about "used to be" he said that he'd been coming up into these mountains for dozens of years, hiking into the deep backcountry and skiing out. He's grown older, but he's continued to show up...in the same mountains.... year after year. Of course, he's the healthier for it, because when many of his peers are having a hard time walking to the car, he's still enjoying a health vibrant enough to celebrate creation. This isn't to caste aspersions on those with limitations in old age, because there are too many factors that come into play in order to make a snap judgment. I'm just saying this: there's value in continuing to show up.
After the skiing, I made my way home and showed up to officiate the wedding rehearsel of a very good friend. I've officiated the weddings of all his brothers, and officiating his is significant for me because it means that I've continued to show up for about 14 years now in the same church, the same city. It's funny, because I didn't think I had it in me to keep showing up, week after week, to help teach and shepherd a community. Staying that long means watching people come and go. It means realizing that, by this time, you're leadership has sometimes been a blessing to people, sometimes a discouragement. It means you've forgiven, and been forgiven. It's means that relationships have evolved and mutated...sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Continuing to show up means that, eventually, you'll be overwhelmingly grateful that you hung in there. Like the view from the top of the mountain, getting to fruitfulness and transformation, both personally, and in marriages, and in churches, requires endurance. On the way to the top yesterday, there were a few times when I said to myself, "who needs this?" I'd stop, drink some water, catch my breath, and then keep going. What motivates me in the mountains is both the beauty at the top and the lessons learned by wanting to quit, but pressing on instead.
The bummer about endurance is that you only realize the blessings of it after you've woven it into the fabric of your soul. But weaving it is tough. It requires a belief that something better is farther down the road, or higher up the mountain. So you keep going. If you turn back prematurely, you won't know, precisely, what you're missing, because you'll never experience it. Thus do the glories of endurance become elusive.
The wedding I'm doing this weekend is significant for many reasons. My friend exemplifies commitment in relationships better than anyone I know (the picture is of him and I climbing in Colorado together - where he joined me for a few days a couple years ago during my teaching time there), and this gives me great confidence regarding the days that are ahead for he and his lovely bride. But this wedding is also a reminder to me of the glories that come from continuing to show up for relationships, for community, for calling. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes we feel betrayed because any time we show up with others, it's just a matter of time before humanity bumps into humanity and feelings get hurt. But when we keep showing up, there are rich rewards to be enjoyed.
I recognize it's not that simple. Infidelity, domestic violence, heresy, and spiritual abuse are all realities. There's a time to draw a line. But the penelum has swung in direction of cycnicism to such an extent that we're often pre-emptively withdrawing, from marriages, relationships, faith communities, at the first sign of disillusionment. The best views, though, reside at the top... and getting there takes years.