But be doers of the word, and not hearers only. – James 1:22
I had an image of myself swishing down the snow-covered slopes, the crispy cold air nipping at my nose and ears, snowflakes gently tapping against my ski glasses and red beard: the image of a skier. No doubt, with my physical dexterity and quick reactions, I could become a really good skier. Besides, it looked so smooth and easy.
I savored the thought. In fact, I’d been savoring it for three months while I saved up the money to go, grow the beard, borrow ski clothes, and, as youth minister, firm up the plans for our church youth trip to Colorado. Now that we were finally on the way, I was still savoring that thought, the image of myself gliding down the slope – it was my driving force. I knew that it would eventually be worth all the time and effort.
But at the moment my swishing image was hard to conjure up. We were thirteen hours into an eighteen hour bus trip – too far along to feel anything but road-tired. Most of the other forty-two people in the group had crashed by now. High school students crash slowly but hard. They were sleeping in the aisle, laid out in the luggage racks above the seats, and snuggled in between the legs of the seats in order to sleep on the floor. And naturally, as always, there were still three or four youths pinging off the walls; listening to different songs on the various cassette recorders, talking louder than the music in order to be heard, and climbing over sleepers and blue cushioned seats in order to relay secret messages to distant confidants.
I returned to the only quiet spot on the bus, the rear corner traveling privy, in order to regain the visual image of myself as the skier, and hopefully to get a little rest. There, complete with pillow and blanket, I fought for some small degree of solitude, away from the loud stereos, constant chatter and shifting masses. By the time I reappeared, the rumor had circulated that I was sick. It was a small price to pay for semi-solitude. It was an invaluable time to re-group from a long, nerve-fraying trip. Having rested briefly, I could then face the sunrise, the rooms that weren’t ready yet, and the skis that had been given to another group by mistake. I was ready to hit the slopes.
Excitement renews sagging energy. I was indeed the realized image of the “Ski Bum” – color coordinated, but not too flashy. I had the skier’s walk down perfect – hard and determined, confident, yet tentative for those occasional slick spots. The skis and the poles were no problem. I could carry them anywhere – could even stick them up properly in the snow. I also observed that the good skier wore his glasses on the top of his head and his gloves snapped his jacket, which I easily emulated. I definitely had the image down.
Skiing, on the other hand, was another matter. I’ve never felt so foolish and uncoordinated in all my life. Why do they have to put the class for “rubber legs” right there in front of everyone? Long ski-lift lines, hoards of people at the rental stand, mobs of folks at the snack bar – all those people watching me slide backwards down that hill. I couldn’t even yell, “look out!” In the only direction I could see, people had already been knocked down and I was apologizing to them. Skis have a mind of their own, and no brakes. Of course, if you can learn how to use the environment – benches, buildings, trees, even fallen skiers can be invaluable in helping you learn to stop. And if you really tough it out, and your ego can take all those five and six year-olds swishing, zigzagging, and flying past you, you can eventually learn to snow plow. At least that’s what I hear.
Skiing looks so graceful, so easy. In reality, it wears hard on the seat and ego. Maybe that’s true of a lot of life. Some people sure make things look easy – athletics, academics, business, relationships. They make them seem so simple you wonder why everyone can’t do it. Then, of course, on second wonder, you quickly realize how easy it is to “look the part” or “talk a good game,” and how truly difficult it is to accomplish anything worthwhile. I suspect that this is also true spiritually. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate,” (Matthew 7:13). Looking the image is easy; living it is tough.
Prayer: Forgive us, Lord, when we are content to merely look and talk like your people. Amen.