When I was a freshman in college I got lost alone in the woods in the middle of the night. I don't remember being more afraid at any other time in my whole life.
About twelve of us were on a backpacking trip as part of the "freshman experience" into the mountains of Colorado, hiking one of the 14-ers, as we natives fondly refer to some of the Collegiate Peaks of the Rockies that rise over 14,000 feet above sea level. I believe it was the night before we were to breach the foot of Mount Yale when I woke up from a dead sleep needing to empty my bladder. Using all of the safety precautions I learned from my upperclassmen leaders, I carefully donned my coat and boots, remembering my flashlight and forgetting my fears. The flashlight beamed out onto the path in front of me and swept illuminating circles to my flanks as I searched for the perfect private place where none of my fellows would hear my stream or see my moon. I tried to remember some landmarks along the way so that I could get myself back to my tent. Really, I tried.
But after emerging from behind my hundred-ton boulder and walking back in the direction I remembered trudging from for approximately the same amount of time I had previously traveled, my tent was nowhere my flashlight could see. So there I was, in the middle of freezing darkness, afraid of being lost, but even more frightened of embarrassment. You see, pride is bigger than boulders when you're an 18-year-old Colorado Native among other liberal-arts students who are like you, without parents or authority for the first time in your whole life. I was most likely only a few degrees off my path, and not too far from the camp, close enough for them to hear me if I called out, but the martyr in me often screams louder than logic in the recesses of my reasoning. I didn't call for help because I didn't want to be a bother to someone who was needing sleep more than needing to show me the way.
And so I doubled back and kept walking. I continued on, trying to find the camp in the middle of my loud silence where my heart was pounding and my fingers were crying. The rocks all looked the same, and I lost all sense of time in my searching. My compass was tucked safely under my pillow back in my tent, as if I could have even used it in the dark. At one point I sat down on a hillside and resolved to wait there until morning light and find my way back. I tried to sleep on the frosty, dry grass. Visions of mountain lions kept my eyes from closing, so I got up and walked some more.
Suddenly, I stopped short so as not to fall into the abyss in front of my light that was a cliff dropping into a canyon below. Funny, I don't remember anything like that near our camp last night. I pictured everything that could go wrong and my fears of the elements began to scream louder than my pride. Without a shred of awareness of the time or location of my being, thoughts of my mother crying over my frozen, starved body finally found after days of searching helped me to find the vocal cords to yell, "Help!"
At first it was surprisingly faint. Was that loud enough to wake them? Am I too far away now for them to hear me? And I shouted again. "Help me, please!" After a few more shouts I heard another voice, far off and to my left. She was so far away, I could hardly believe it. "I hear you. We're coming."
My pounding heart stopped as I exhaled the breath I'd been holding since leaving my boulder. My pride faded like last year's report card and I realized my folly as clear as writing on the wall. True, I had woken them and they would have to sacrifice a few minutes of rest to find me and guide me back by the sound of their voices, but - and there it loomed on the wall - that's what they were there for. To help me if I got into trouble.
And isn't that what we're all here for? To help each other? I can't tell you how many people I meet who admit openly, "It's so hard for me to ask for help, even when I know I need it."
Why? I don't know their reasons - maybe they're different from my reasons that night. All I know is I was trying to sacrifice my needs because I had made the choice for the rest of my group that their comfort was more important than my need. In those hours of not calling out, I put self-sufficient pride before the freedom of community, and stole purpose from my leaders as I ran with only the riches of fear in my little getaway. Was it worth it? Sure, just like years in prison are worth it for a bank-robber. The value is in the lesson learned.
A few months before this trip I had surrendered my heart to Christ and made a commitment to Him. This was the first time the commitment had nothing to do with my parents or my friends. It was when I told Him, "I want You - whoever You really are, and I want to love You with my life the way You loved me with Yours." To come to that decision I had to get to the point of realizing that my life was doomed if I was to be the one in control of it.
For a capable native of the mountains of success, that is a big deal. It's pride, sacrificed and bloody on the altar of self. It's surrender and open-handed living in the wake of a lifetime of taking matters into my own hands. For me it continues to be one of the most difficult daily lessons He must teach me over and over. Like the past decade of teaching my children to put away their belongings, it continues to be a source of God's instruction to my stubborn heart.
You need help. I never made you to do this by yourself.
"Instead, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must help one another every day, as long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us." - Hebrews 3:13 (GNT)
And I've gotten slightly better at calling out for help since that cold night in the mountains. Whenever I feel myself putting up protective walls of self-sacrifice and martyr-like pride, I recall how gracious my leaders were when our voices and flashlights had led us back to one another. They asked if I was alright and I said, "Just a little cold. Sorry to wake you up." She shined her flashlight right into my face and I shined mine right back at hers. The look in her eyes was nothing short of compassionate relief. "Not at all - we're glad you did."
Yes, glad. Happy to help. Ready to do what they came out to do - keep the individuals within the strength of the flock. Seek and save the lost. Assist those who have lost the path and who shake alone in fright and shame. Bring them back to the health of doing life together. Extend shocking concern where they might have expected perturbed huffing.
Help. It's what God does for His kids:
"For I hold you by your right hand—
I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.' " -Isaiah 41:13 (NLT)
Also, it's what His kids do for one another. And please don't forget - we're glad to.
When have you had to call out for help?
What stops you, even when you know you need it?
What can you do to reach out, even when it's hard?
I'd love to hear the stories of your learning too...