Last Friday, at the end of my last full week of summer break, a small group of us went to The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School and spent several hours on the ropes courses.
It was fun and challenging and exhausting. At times painful and, once or twice, genuinely frightening. In four hours, I completed most of three courses and watched from the forest floor as the kids did more. (The most energetic among us completed five courses.)
All of us being age 11 or older and having previous experience at the park, we skipped the beginner-level courses and went directly to the GREEN (intermediate) courses once we were harnessed and safety-checked. Our strength and balance and stamina were tested as we traversed wobbly walkways and swings and tunnels and ziplines—all strung among trees high above the forest floor.
I was so energized! This was great!
After just a few obstacles, I saw the first of these signs that appear regularly throughout the course beside ladders down to the ground: TIP: Use an early exit if it will improve your overall adventures today!
How encouraging, I thought! And what a metaphor for much of life. There’s no shame, no blame, just an acknowledgement that sometimes our overall experience will be better if we recognize and admit when it’s our time to be done—before we push ourselves too far.
Later in the day, I would face my own real limits. We had completed two GREEN courses—Mountain Trail and Fern Gully—and moved on to a BLUE (advanced) one—Riptide. The kids had encouraged me to go ahead of them, so I didn’t have the benefit of watching them complete each obstacle before I encountered it myself.
I arrived at one that seemed really tricky. I looked at it, considered it, evaluated my options, and attempted to cross. And it was just too much. My body was tired, I was nervous, and I probably didn’t have adequate upper body strength. I panicked.
Nearly in tears, I got myself back to the platform. And then I panicked more. There was no simple way out of this situation. A staff member could come, but I was probably 30-feet off the ground, so they couldn’t just lean a ladder against the tree. To get to one of the “early exits”, I would have to travel forward or backward, and across at least one obstacle, and that seemed unbearable.
In that moment, 11-year-old Sara approached from the obstacle behind me. In mere seconds, she evaluated the situation—my panic, the very challenging obstacle ahead, the options at our disposal—and she said, very calmly, “Mom, you can clip your zipline trolley to the line and pull yourself across” (i.e., use the safety line to which I was already clipped and essentially avoid the treacherous obstacle entirely). This solution was so simple, so obvious. And yet, I’d been completely unable to see it myself.
I did cry then, tears of relief. And at the next “early exit”, I climbed down and rested my weary body while watching those younger family members from the ground below. By the time they finished their next course, I was rested enough that I could have joined them in the trees again—if only I hadn’t returned my equipment already!
It would be so easy to say that I quit or cheated or somehow failed by climbing down before completing the Riptide course. But the wisdom of that sign rings true: my overall adventure was improved by stopping and resting when I did.
And also, my overall adventure was improved by my companions. Without them, I would have taken fewer risks that day, and the overall adventure wouldn’t have been nearly as invigorating. Without them, I’m not sure how I would have handled that potentially devastating moment of panic.
As we begin this new program year of UUCC ministry, obstacles are already in sight—some that we anticipated, some reappearing that we thought we already had surpassed, some we thought we were prepared to overcome (but maybe aren’t)—and we know we will inevitably encounter other obstacles that we cannot yet see.
We are going to harness up, and stick together, and take one step at a time.
And we will remember that occasionally we will need to take an alternative route—perhaps even an early exit—to improve the overall adventure.
Yours in love and faith,