The “zig-zagging” is just it though. Life zig-zags. God doesn’t color-code the holds for us, we have to feel around and find them for ourselves. It’s what makes us better climbers and stronger Christians.
(As always, climbing jargon is a hyperlink to the Lexicon page.)
Just when I started to feel super confident in my climbing abilities, just when I was starting to feel like I was on the verge of some kind of athleticism, I got spooked.
See, I’m what is commonly referred to as a gym rat. That is, the majority of the climbing that I do is indoors. Despite the best efforts of the climbing industry, indoor climbing will never feel like outdoor climbing. You just can’t replicate the sounds of the birds, the smell of the forest, the feel of the hot rock or cool breeze, the sight of a slug in your jug. And it’s fine, I can’t say that I always want the experience of squishing bugs while I’m working out in the gym. Overall, indoor climbing just feels very safe. Instead of standing on a boulder, your belayer is standing on what resembles a gigantic mattress. You know that the rope you’re climbing on is in excellent condition, and checked by dozens of people on a regular basis. The routes are all color coded and it’s usually easy to figure out where on a route you’re going next. You’re warm, there’s music playing overhead, and Clif bars are for sale in the vending machine.
Outdoor climbing is … not those things.
I’m not complaining, really, I love the outdoors. It’s a huge part of why I love climbing. However, you are very exposed to the elements. I learned what this was like recently in my trip to New River Gorge in WV. Saturday morning, we woke up to the sound of rain dripping off of our tents. We huddled under the hatch of my car, ate slightly wet eggs, and tried to determine which area would be protected from the rain enough to still climb on. To Kaymoor we went, where there were several routes protected from the rain by a slight overhang
Now, I’m not one to wimp out over a little weather. On the drive to the trail head, I felt like a BAMF. I was going to brave the elements, pull out some wicked climbs, and earn the mad respect of my new climbing friends.
None of these things really happened.
The first route we put up a rope for was called Totally Tammy, 5.10a
. Ten A’s are totally within my ability as a climber. They are typically what I warm up on in a gym setting, and I have comfortably climbed them outdoors before. One of the best two climbers with us led the route and set up the rope. She came back down off of it and said, “Wow, that was a little weird and scary.” Oh man
I thought. Everyone else got on the route and came down with the same response. I was the second to last person to go. The rock was more of a slab
-styled climb, which is a type of climbing I’ve never really done before. It’s a little like climbing a plane of glass, set at an obtuse angle, with dimes glued on for hand holds. This particular route was a very runout
route. So I climbed up a few feet, then had to traverse way over to the right of my bolts
, move up a few more feet, traverse back left to my bolt, move up a foot or two, traverse right, again and again until it was finally over. Slab climbing requires a lot of foot smearing
, and this was when I discovered that my climbing shoes are beneath my skill level and the rubber is smooth and they are too pliable and they are too big…and…and…and! Sigh. I psyched myself out. My legs were shaking. My hands were shaking. I was on top-rope, so I literally had no reason to be afraid. I couldn’t take a whipper
, and stood no chance of being injured. But there I was, quivering like a leaf. A cold wet leaf.
In the face of this new kind of route, I was afraid. I sucked it up and I finished it, but the rest of the day I could not muster back any confidence. I felt embarrassed and inadequate. Here I was with all of my new rock friends and I made a fool of myself on a little 10a. Even the next day, I was put up on a 5.8 route to start leading
and after the first two bolts I freaked and asked to come back down. I was a total quitter.
In the following week, I started to recover. From growing up horseback riding I knew that when you get bucked off, you “cowboy up” and get right back on. I started to feel gradually better about myself, and I came away from the weekend knowing what aspects of my technique and mental game I needed to work on, and started window shopping for new climbing shoes.
Also within this week I finally got my information packet about discernment. I was so excited going into the meeting with the rector. Finally, after two years of patiently waiting, I was at the edge of finally fulfilling my calling. Then I found out that by diocesan policy, one must have a Bachelor’s Degree in hand before
beginning discernment. The diocesan discernment process is on a yearly cycle from September to the following August. That means, if all goes well, that I will be waiting a full year at least in Williamsburg. I will have to find a job, work to support myself, find a place to live. I thought the route to seminary was a straight shot for me; I thought it would be an easy 10a. I thought that the holds would be clearly taped, and that so long as I stayed under my anchors
I was on route.
Well, this is a thing I’ve never climbed before.
In the face of my news, I was filled with anxiety. The job market is terrible! How will I ever find a job, especially one that utilizes my skills? If I have to waitress, will I earn enough? Will this job inhibit me from volunteering at church as much as I am now?
Then the self doubt leaked in. Do they think that as a college senior I’m too young? Do I not have enough life experience? Why are they crying out for more young adult involvement in the Church, and then seemingly asking us to jump hurdles to get in? I am really cut out for this, or is this some Godly cosmic sign?
I’ll man up and admit it — I cried. A lot. All week. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the news. I couldn’t fathom climbing a route that didn’t go straight up to the anchors, but instead zig-zagged off course. It scares me, and it makes me doubt if I’m wanted or if I’m good enough.
The “zig-zagging” is just it though. Life zig-zags. God doesn’t color-code the holds for us, we have to feel around and find them for ourselves. It’s what makes us better climbers and stronger Christians. Even if other climbers before you have chalked up the hold and you see it in front of you, it doesn’t mean it will be a hold you can use or use well.
Once again, climbing has reflected my life. I’m learning a new type of climbing right now, that is, I’m going to be exploring ways in the next year where I can still live a life of ministry, but not yet be on the ordination track or in seminary. Along the way I’ll be picking up new skills that will make me a better minister some day, just like buying better shoes.
It’s time for me to buckle up, stick my chin up, chalk up, and climb on.