Has anyone else noticed it’s been trying to snow again today?
It feels like a divine nudge to me – this morning God told me I needed to learn how to snowboard! Yeah right, like that’s going to happen!
I’d be a bit of baby when it comes to snowboarding. So there’s no chance I’m signing up for lessons any time soon. (Switch off now if you thought was a piece about literally learning to snowboard). So what was God on about?
Twice in the last few weeks there have been snow related pictures that have come to me unexpectedly in times of prayer. This is not all that surprising as we enjoyed a ski holiday earlier in January so the imagery is fresh in my head. The significant thing related to these pictures and my prayers is that just after I returned from that holiday, our vicar left, leaving a diminished team of people (of which I’m one) to lead the church through an interregnum.
This situation constitutes my challenge.
The first ‘picture’ I had while praying was more of a reminder. God reminded me that on one particular day while we were on holiday I skied further and faster and down steeper slopes than I’ve ever skied before.
‘Why was that?’ God asked me
‘Oh, that’s easy’ I responded. ‘I had a ski guide leading and there was a group of people with me’.
‘Just think about that for a moment’.
So the presence of other people in the group meant that I didn’t want to let them down or hold them up. I figured they were all better than me so I upped my game and steeled my nerve because I didn’t want to be the one left behind. They didn’t ask this from me, in fact they didn’t even know how nervous I was but their very presence helped me push the envelope of my ability and actually made me less afraid. Also when the cloud came down being in a team was vital: I could only see the guy in front and I was relying on the fact that he/she was following the guy in front of them and so on and so on all the way down to the leader: the guy in the blue bobble hat.
The leader made the biggest difference. When we were not in cloud, I could make out his reassuring blue bobble hat for myself and see that he was waiting calmly at the side of the piste about 500m below us. And at the top of each slope I hung on his every word : ‘it’ll be steep for short bit, then keep to the left, build up some speed because beyond where you can see there’s a flat bit coming’. So useful to be given a heads-up on what’s ahead of you.
‘Oh and by the way’ he’d say ‘this isn’t really a black run, think of it as a dark blue’
‘You’ll be fine’ he shouted confidently over his shoulder as he slipped nonchalantly over the precipice leaving us with no choice but to follow him!
This memory has helped a lot. The presence of a guide makes a huge difference so keep your eyes on him, listen closely to instructions and follow his lead. The presence of others on the same hairy-scary journey also helps a lot, especially when you bring out the best in each other, united either by exhilaration or sheer terror!
I have not been left without a leader. Most people would probably refer to him as wearing leather sandals rather than a blue bobble hat but I don’t suppose that matters. Nor am I on my own, I have a body of people with me all committed to the same journey. The first thought is always comforting, the second thought usually is!
However today’s snow related ‘conversation’ in prayer was not so comforting. it went something like this:
‘You need to learn to snowboard’
‘You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve never snowboarded in my life. Why would I want to start now? I’m a reasonably competent skier, can’t I just ‘ski’ my way through this experience ie rely on my talents and skills which, after all, are God given Lord?
‘Nah, you’ve got to learn to snowboard’.
And that means what?
Well, at one level, snowboarding means having your feet fixed to the equivalent of a huge bar of soap and being sent hurtling down a steep incline with the expectation that you will
a) remain upright
b) turn corners. (You can of course go down a mountain in a straight line but it’s a fairly suicidal route)
If you don’t learn to turn a number of things may happen, depending on the terrain:
a) you will go off piste into deep snow and may never get out
b) you will have a close encounter with a tree
And neither of these options is helpful or dignified. Nor is falling over in general.
You can ‘face-plant’
None of these are to be recommended! And all of these appropriately describe the dimensions of my current experience: the ‘slope’ looks steep, the potentials for disaster seem numerous. I’d really rather be on skis, why are we talking about snow-boarding Lord?
Correct me snow-boarders, if I’m wrong but I believe that to execute a turn on a board requires the gentlest of movements. It is ‘simply’ a matter of shifting your weight either onto your toes or back on to your heels. It’s a small, barely perceptible movement. Master it and you will turn gracefully and proceed safely down the mountain in more or less an upright position. Get it wrong and you will face-plant or bum slide.
To snowboard with style you need to maintain your inner sense of balance. When you are tempted to over-react, remember you are less likely to over-balance if you make a minimal and gentle response’.
There was one other dimension to the image in my head which I haven’t yet mentioned. For some bizarre reason I was snowboarding in tails, carrying a laden tray of drinks which I was required to keep upright and serve to punters along the way.
Here’s the closest image I can find.
Substitute snow-board for ice-skates and imagine him looking much less in control with his tray at forty-five degrees and you are getting closer to the image I had of myself!
So what was God trying to say to me? “Don’t over-react – you’ll over-balance. Remember that it is often the smallest of adjustments, the simplest of interactions that matter most. You’re here to serve, I need you to stay upright and neither career into people (nothing scarier than a beginner snowboarder behind you on the slopes) nor end up ‘off-piste and out of action’. ”
Lord, when I’m tempted to ‘put my foot down hard’ or ‘throw my weight about’ because the slope feels too steep, the tray too heavy or the trees too close, help me to remember that sometimes all it takes to turn a situation around is a minimum response executed with grace. Also if you wouldn’t mind keeping me in a generally upright position… that would be good.