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123-Real, Raw Men Surviving The Wilderness...

Updated: Apr 21

It may have been March (I couldn’t ever know for sure) in the mid 1980’s, nestled in my bed, covers pulled up and I was getting ready to close my heavy eyes for the night.  Before the room went dark, save the four-inch light beam that shone through my door from the single bulb in our hallway, my mom was faithful to pray with me.  One particular night I remember her asking me if I wanted to pray.  “I don’t know how to start,” my small voice revealed concern that maybe I’m just not ready to talk to God. 

“Just say, ‘Thank you Lord for this day,’ that’s a good way to begin a prayer,” she responded, unafraid that I wouldn’t be able to catch on to this vital foundational practice as a Christ follower.  

“What do I pray for?” my curious self, questioned.

“Pray for your dad, say something you are thankful for, just talk to God,” she said.


Last month in the midst of the powerful wind and breaking waves that could gobble up a full-sized human, five guys were out surviving the elements.  We didn’t just survive, we adventured—we approached the 120-foot frozen waterfall from above, lowered ourselves from the top down into the abyss then swung and kicked steel spikes into the ice to climb ourselves back out—pure adventure.  In between the grit there were moments of men being real men; egos shelved, raw, inquisitive emotion and genuine character shining through the facade that we often use to cloak our true selves.  This is where our youngest member of team, at just 17 displayed authenticity for the team to chew on.  Let me help you get on this trip with us—originally pitched as an opportunity for full-time pastors and ministry leaders to get a break from the daily stressors of unrelentingly serving others, a wilderness experience was just the medicine needed—a dose of quiet, phone-free existence centered in the pinnacle of God’s design—wind, water, sky, trees, and cold.  It is here that we ended up with one pastor, a young man mentored in the faith, two spiritually grounded guides, and Dylan—a senior in high school who joined this trip with no spiritual or Christian background at all.


“Tonight’s topic is faith.  Who’s first?” I just put it out there as they all knew it was coming as the pattern of The Five F’s was wrapping up; I mean, family, friends, females have all been discussed and storied over the last couple of days together, so what else was left?  Faith and future; naturally.  A pastor is used to leading and it’s no different in the woods!  Following came the Christ followers as we have been brought up in the concept of sharing our faith journey to some extent.  Mid sharing, we had a question come up.  “What do you mean ‘God spoke to you?’” Dylan asked as innocently as one could; pure, child-like curiosity driving the question.  This was met with a short pause of reflection, myself included wondering how do I know when God is speaking to me?  Using personal experience and examples from the Bible we were able to give a satisfying answer that seemed to register not only with Dylan, but with the rest of us as well, as we were forced to stop and contemplate something that has been taken for granted far too many times before.


More questions were peppered throughout the three days we that walked, talked, and shared the best pancakes you can find on a wilderness shoreline in February at 46 degrees N.  Face to face dialog is a lost art in our tech-filled society, and this was bonding beyond discussing the weather.  We circled up and prayed often, examined nature, expressed our expectations and explored our fears.  The final morning had a bittersweet taste as we loaded our packs and made a final trip to the rolling waves that acted as our screen time for the last few days.  Finding our way into a tight circle, packs nearly bumping as our shoulders made a barricade from the icy breeze that constantly tried to pry its way in, I simply asked, “Who wants it?”  By now everyone knew it was time to talk to our creator and savior for a few minutes and be grateful for the breath in our lungs among other things.

“Can I pray?” Dylan asked.

Only giving it a split second of thought I rationalized to myself I don’t see why not, and said “Sure.”

“Cool.”  He paused for what seemed like more than a few seconds, but was probably just enough time to process his next thought, “How?”


It was in this moment, standing in that tight circle of men a stone’s throw from that fierce great lake, that I could place myself back in my ten-by-ten bedroom, eyes heavy, learning how to pray from my mom.  It’s simply talking to God, there is no prerequisite, no religious ceremonial requirement, or right words that make prayer prayer.  I simply shared with Dylan what my mom shared with me and that ushered in the most beautiful prayer of the trip—pure of heart, genuine gratitude, stripped of any religious dross that builds up over years of routine—it was Dylan being honest and processing his experience in the wilderness.  I’ve had a lot of years walking out my faith and learning to pray, hearing God’s voice, and studying the love letter that He left for us called the Bible.  Let’s not get lost in the complexity of something that was supposed to be simple—talk to God, listen and obey His voice and letter, then go out and make disciples.  It wasn’t complicated in 1980 something and it shouldn’t be complicated now.  Thank you, Dylan.


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