Winter is Here
The coming of winter marks one of the most special times of the year for me: the arrival of the ski and snowboard season.
My joy surges not simply because of how much I enjoy snowboarding; rather, it awakens from what the season encompasses as a whole. For me, skiing and snowboarding provide a beautiful access to enter into the sacred.
So many of my close friendships have developed in the car on the way to the mountain or on the long double chair to the top. For me, the mountain is an invitation to community; a day on the hill provides the gift of shared experiences among friends that’s hard to beat. One of the most cherished winter traditions in my friend group is the Sunday morning run before church. It’s only a 45-minute drive to the base, but being back in town for the 9 o’clock service means a 5 a.m. alarm. (Full disclosure—in spite of the excitement of the morning, the alarm clock isn’t usually well received. Snooze.)
Then begins our ritual.
After a couple cups of coffee and the short drive, we meet in the parking lot at 6:00, grab a pair of snowshoes or throw some skins on the skis, and begin the hour-long hike from the base to the summit. When we finally reach the top, it is time for our “sacrament”: a frosty PBR is popped open and passed around as we watch the sunrise. The view from the summit is always worth the hike; the PBR, not so much. It’s more of a solidarity thing—as in, everyone shares in the universally bad flavor a PBR brings to the palate at 7:00 in the morning. Then we strap in and begin the quick but joyful run down to the car.
What I cherish most about this tradition isn’t the hike or even the fresh turns back to the car. It is the sacred gift of spending early morning with friends outdoors; that’s what makes those mornings so meaningful. Jesus spent a lot of time on mountains with his friends.
Snowboarding has also opened up lessons for me in gratitude and playfulness.
The practice of comparing is, unfortunately, something I’m very good at. What I’ve discovered through years of snowboarding is that, in spite of the community among friends I savor, I often feel a strong temptation to compare myself to others. There have been countless times where I’m standing in a lift line in disbelief of how fun my last run was and then all of a sudden I ask myself, “Wait, how come I don’t have a new snowboard like the guy next to me?” Or, “Why don’t I have a more flexible work schedule so I can come up here more often?” Or my personal favorite, “This kid is 10 years younger than I am and he is already better than me. What gives?”
It’s like the moment recorded in John 21: Jesus invites Peter into a beautiful experience of reconciliation and forgiveness, and Peter reaffirms his love for Jesus. Suddenly, in the middle of this sacred moment, Peter looks at the disciple John and asks Jesus, “What about this man?” I can relate to Peter—“What about…?” Jesus’ response is priceless: “What’s it to you? You follow me.” I think it’s the same way he responds to me when I get into a habit of comparing.
So over the last couple seasons I’ve been trying a new focus that’s changing the way I think about snowboarding. As I enjoy the company of Jesus more intentionally, the temptation to compare—which often leads to envy and fear—falls away. In its place I find an invitation to playfulness.
Playfulness receives the world as a gift. When I focus on trying to be the best snowboarder on the mountain, what results is always a loss of joy. Playfulness enables me to focus on snowboarding as a gift where gratitude and expression are the natural responses.
Playfulness also allows a sense of abandon where I feel completely absorbed in the joy snowboarding brings me. And playfulness views moments as opportunities, not just minutes in a day. Henri Nouwen defines the Greek word for time, kairos, as “the opportunity.” Playfulness allows each day on the mountain as well as each turn in the snow to be an opportunity to break free from comparisons and fear and find the joy and companionship Jesus is offering instead.
I wouldn’t have expected snowboarding to play such a critical role in my life, but it has brought such profound lessons and a new sense of the sacred in play. Cherishing the gift of good friends and accepting the invitation to playfulness has allowed me to enter more fully into the freedom of God. And in doing so, every part of the experience has become a little bit better. Even the 7 a.m. PBR.