My guess is that when people describe Angie Nitz, some of the very last two words ever used include “extreme” and “sport”.
And yet, on one recent Thursday morning I found myself at 11,000 feet above sea level tethered to a zip line and zooming down a mountain at 65 mph. Doesn’t sound like me does it? Let so let me back up…
While on a recent family vacation to Ruidoso, New Mexico, our thirteen year old daughter learned that the area is home to a zip line with the highest launch point in the world and was anxious to give it a try. Since it’s a side by side experience and the other three members of our family were disqualified/less enthusiastic about the opportunity, that left me, never having so much ridden a backyard zip line, to accompany her. This would be interesting!
So on the morning of our reservation, we piled into the minivan and started the long, winding and VERY STEEP drive up the mountain. With every pass I would gasp at the view outside of my window, swallow to pop my ears and feel the anxiety rise a bit more. I was about to hurtle myself down that same mountain with no car to protect me, no wisdom to guide me, and no previous experience to teach me. I was unprepared! By the time we reached the lodge I was thoroughly rethinking my decision.
Thankfully, however, I did not have long to assess my exit strategy because immediately after checking in we were put in the very capable hands of three guides who clearly knew their stuff. (I know because I thoroughly grilled them on their qualification.) An average day at the office for these three is leading at least four zip tours down this very same mountain. All day long. All summer long. Year after year. I began to breathe a little easier. We then sat us down to watch an informational video and I learned that my gear would have brakes! I was starting to feel even better about things.
At that point they began expertly strapping us into an enormous amount of serious looking gear. “Don’t worry”, our guide told us, “Each one of these packs is about $2,000 worth of gear. We wouldn’t risk sending that much money down the mountain if this weren’t completely safe.” Good to know! From there we headed out to the practice run. This short incline from a six foot platform allowed us to test our gear and practice responding to the guides’ hand signals to slow and stop. I did it! Phew. I was starting to believe I might survive this.
After all of that preparation, we finally made it to the top of the first of the three segments of the zip line tour. Two of our guides immediately jumped on the line and zipped down the run ahead of us, testing the line and preparing for our arrival on the platform. Finally it was our turn and our guide lifted all of that expensive (and heavy!) equipment off of my back and strapped me snugly to the line as I looked over at my thirteen year old daughter swinging happily from the line next to me.
“Thanks for coming with me, Mom,” she said. “Don’t worry. We’ve got this.”
And with that they gave the sign, we pulled our cords and tore off down the line towards the platform. As the guides unhooked us from the line, placed our equipment back on our backs and we began the walk to the next launch point, I realized that all of the fear and anxiousness that I had felt on my way up the mountain was gone. I had no idea what the next line would look like (although I had heard it was the steepest and fastest), but I felt secure that I had the leadership, the equipment, the training, a little experience and an encouraging partner to take with me to the next leg of our adventure and I was confident that that was all I needed.
As I reflected on my morning on the zip line it occurred to me that what Jesus has asked of me could also be considered extreme.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
What?! I love you, Jesus, but give up my life? I’m not sure I’m ready for that! I don’t believe that Jesus is so much asking me to give up my life as he is to trust him WITH my life.
When my daughter asked me to go zip lining I heard, “please risk your life with me by hurtling yourself down the highest mountain in the world at 65 miles per hour”. As it turned out, however, what she was really asking me to do was to trust the expertise, experience and equipment of our guides, and then to go along side of her as together we learned, followed, and practiced at what we had been taught.
When Jesus asks me to follow him, it often means going places I have never gone and doing things I would rather not, but he never throws me down that mountain without an experience guide (himself), without tested equipment (his Word & sacraments), and without company (my brothers and sisters in faith). Giving up my life to follow Jesus simply means relying on the tools he has already given me and which he has already proven are trustworthy. With those things in place what could be a ride of terror becomes a thrilling adventure.
I left that mountain that day asking myself. Am I fully utilizing the equipment that God has already given to me and proven is safe and trustworthy? Am I following him as closely as I did my Zip line guides? Am I looking to each mountain in front of me remembering what He taught me on the last run?
As fall approaches and we as a church begin a new season of life and ministry together, my prayer is that we will face each mountain with the full knowledge that we are not going it alone! We have a trusted guide, tested equipment and excellent company!