Breaking Trail

Today I had the glorious Northeast privilege of taking my kids sledding in about 2 feet of snow. We were visiting my parents and I couldn't wait to get them out on those hills that I used to love as a kid. The conditions were perfect for creating a wild ride sure to scare the mess out of any otherwise normal 3 and 5 year old. What a time - bundling up, snowpants, ski jackets, mittens, hats (definitely looked like Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story- "I can't put my arms down."). We hit the hills fast and furious, but were unprepared for what awaited us. The massive snowfalls in Southeast PA the past couple of weeks had left ample snow for a great sledding run, but the lack of little ones at my parents' home had left the snow untouched. My kids couldn't move in the stuff. They were standing waist deep in snow and unable to put one foot in front of the other. They were unsteady and falling; overwhelmed by the difficulty; overcome by the resistance. I realized rather quickly that this could turn bad on me. A cold and unhappy 3-year old is no pleasant experience, and I just knew that if they could make it up the hill and if we could get the snow to cooperate they would have a great time. Just like I used to. The cold air rushing past their heads, the reckless and out-of-control feeling as they approached speeds too fast for any pre-schooler, the rush of bailing off a sled into 2 feet of snow and the euphoria of looking up the hill and seeing how far they'd come---they had to see it for themselves, had to experience it, had to taste it. I just knew that if I could get them there they would feel it too. But all this snow was slowing them down, hindering their progress, robbing them of this great experience. So what to do?

I ran down the hill and got in front of them and started to "break" the trail. I took small but forceful steps with my huge size 12 boots and started to give them a place to stand, a stable place to move around. The snow was deeper than I perceived and the hill was bigger than I had remembered and the work was exhausting. Slowly, methodically, intentionally, I plugged away up the hill, creating a small but maneuverable place for the kids to walk, ensuring that our sledding experience would not be in vain, that they would be able to continue to move up and down the hill without great distress, and at last we made it up. I was spent. My heart was pounding, my chest was burning, my legs felt like jell-o, and I just collapsed into the snow. After some recovery time, we all jumped back on the sled and raced down the hill again, faster and farther than before and started up the hill again. Each time we did, I took the lead, I stamped down the snow, I broke the trail, I gave them a place to walk. Just follow Daddy, we'll get there - I promise. What an amazing day.

As I was thinking about the day (sitting on a heating pad, with my feet propped up), I saw a lot of life parallels from my sledding experience with my kids. So often, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, I have tasted and seen something that I want others to see. I have been given a glimpse of what is "not yet" and am tasked with the job of guiding others to it. It is the blessing and burden of leading - you get to see it first, but then you must help share it, whatever the cost. My desire for my kids to experience the joy of sledding (like I used to) drove me to waste myself breaking the trail, to sacrifice comfort and energy and ease in order to see it come to fruition. Successful parenting is selfless work. Successful marriages are selfless marriages. Successful pastoring is selfless pastoring. All of them require the grit and determination to press toward the mark, even when it has not yet been realized, even when it costs us, even when it is uncomfortable, and even when (as my 5-year old wanted to) those behind us ask to turn back. These callings (that we all share) are not for the faint of heart or those short on endurance. The only way they (whoever "they" are that you lead) will ever see and experience what we have seen and experienced, is if we're willing to pay the price to guide them to it. Dads, moms, leaders - break the trail, lead well, give those behind a firm place to stand.