Hiking With a Crap Sandwich and Three Pairs of Underwear: 6 Minute Read
Lately I've started calling God “jerk” and names that rhyme with “bass roll.” Why? Because my past year tastes like a crap sandwich. Here's a quick summary:
1) My two closest family male relationships both had strokes
2) I left the company I started seven years ago
3) I moved from the city I’ve called home 30 plus years
4) My fiancé broke up with me a little over four months ago (this may be the first time some of you are hearing this, sorry)
5) I’ve had some unexplainable and difficult attacks from people I least expected
I've concluded God doesn't love me. In fact, he might hate me. At a minimum, he’s completely unwilling to listen to my coaching advice. So I’m interviewing other Gods to see who can offer better pay and benefits. Things don't feel the way they used to. My affections, time, and hard work deserve appreciation. Don’t you agree?
I know I’m self-absorbed. I've got my health, relationships, the sun and the moon and the stars, for which I should be grateful. Billions of other humans have far more difficult circumstances than I.
I wish I could eat my crap sandwich in joy, humility, and gratitude, with a smile on my face.
Recently I went hiking for six days with my friend Andrew in New Hampshire. We covered thirty-five miles of the hardest terrain on the Appalachian Trail.
Before the hike, Andrew kept texting me videos so I would know how hard it would be. The more videos he sent the more I decided not to watch any of them. "Andrew is an Eagle Scout," I told myself. "If anybody can make sure someone with a low competence level like me will live, it’s an Eagle Scout."
Plus, I wanted to go no matter what. I thought the hiking would be therapeutic. I believed the physical experience could help me gain a sense of control in my life. Maybe, I hoped, it might even improve my attitude...
The hike was far more straight up and down than either of us, including the Eagle Scout, prepared for. But it taught me a few things:
1) Decide on your three pairs of underwear:
Andrew demanded we take the bare minimums on our hike. He told me to bring three pairs of underwear, including the pair I had on. "Isn't it a six day trip?" I asked. He insisted three pairs was all we needed. He was right. By day four, before my left leg began to swell, I'd come around. I asked Andrew to quit his job. "We have all the gear we need to hike the whole Appalachian Trail," I argued. "Let's do it now."
Eating a crap sandwich has helped solidify my three pairs of underwear, the gear I can't live without:
Self abandonment and a way to help others. Currently this is the book I’m writing. But writing a book is an excessive way to help others, don't you think? Every day, I interact with people who need eye contact, a listening ear, a smile, or a word of encouragement. The only qualification required to help others is a willing heart.
A community of unconditional love. This is harder in a society that idolizes exercising its economic freedoms. The average home size has doubled over the last fifty years. There's more distance to overcome for neighbors to interact. Most people determine where they will live by job and salary or by city amenities and status. Some communities—like the one I grew up in—have become so expensive that many who want to stay feel they can’t afford to. This includes those who grew up there. Even so, we can take steps to go against the tide.
A deep internal relationship with an external guide. This means prayer, meditation, journaling, singing, walking in the woods, memorization, and more. It requires honest conversation.
The bad news is that my three pairs of underwear in life take work, sacrifice, and adjustments. The good news is that any of us can have them now.
2) Throw the toothpaste and keys away:
Shortly after we began Andrew did an inventory of my pack and gave me a loving rebuke. "Are you going to use this huge tube of toothpaste?" he wanted to know. “And these keys? You could have left them all behind but your car key. It's a long hike," he added, "and this is unnecessary weight.”
The tension in my life comes not from the lack of a nice house, a wife and children, and "successful" career. The tension comes from feeling like a stranger on earth. One who believes freedom comes not from these things but from not needing them. I watch in confusion and self doubt as others pursue the old success to have them. I wonder, "am I wasting my life away?"
Please hear me. I'd enjoy a decent home to own so long as it’s simple, things don’t break, and I don’t have to mow the lawn. I'd love to have a family and a successful career. But they are not requirements for my three pairs of underwear described above.
3) "The longest way round is the shortest way home."
At one point Andrew and I chose a one mile path down the face of a mountain instead of a longer, three mile path around it. Not only did I come close to falling to my death, but I’m confident this choice took us twice as long.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no real shortcuts for experience. A picture from the top of a mountain is not the same as hiking it. Taking a vitamin D pill is not the same as eating a banana. Reading online about refugees yields different opinions than living in a refugee camp.
Experience shows us our three pairs of underwear.
Experience includes crappy crap sandwiches.
What's worse than eating inevitable crap sandwiches is pretending I'm not eating one. I do this when I self medicate. I ignore and distract. I get tipsy but not drunk (depending on your definitions). I fill real relationships with fake relationships. I deny my responsibility and blame others.
When I do this, I also lose my three pairs of underwear. I get distracted from helping others. I grow distant from my community of unconditional love. I become indifferent towards God.
Then I miss virtues. They grow best when we eat crap sandwiches while holding tight to our three pairs of underwear. We know courage not by avoiding fear but in spite of it; peace not by avoiding turmoil but in spite of it. We know love not by avoiding hate but in spite of it; hope not by avoiding despair but in spite of it.
Reflecting on this past year, I’ve struggled not too much but too little. I’ve asked for help from others not too much but too little. I’ve wrestled with God not too much but too little. The struggle, the asking, the wrestling, may feel like the longest way round. But it's also the shortest way home.
My best moments have come when I focus on how I can help others. Like connecting with an old friend who recently went through a divorce. Or sharing my business struggles with a friend trying to survive in their start up.
My best moments have come when these same people remind me, "persistence is how the snails made it onto the ark." They encourage me through acts of kindness and keeping me alive on the Appalachian Trail.
My best moments have come when I’ve taken my gloves off and thrown bare knuckle punches at God. I have found that he’s able to take them. Despite my colorful language, lighting hasn’t struck my room in NYC, yet.
And God talks back. “Brace yourself like a man,” he tells Job, who endured far more than me. “I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” Like Job, I was not there to see the first deer jump or the foundations of the earth being set. God comes this way to me. For you, it might be more gentle.
Despite my best efforts, my crap sandwiches have not changed, yet. But I have.
A few weeks back somebody broke into one of my most valuable possessions. A year ago, I would have flipped out and bit my fingernails off. This time I didn’t even worry about it. I made sure it was being handled and made lunch.
In my best moments I can say with Job, “when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.” I can say with Francois de Salignac Fenelon, "I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them." I can ask with Paul, “Who knows enough to give God advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?" I can confess with Martin Luther King Jr. the day before he died, “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord.”
All this from hiking with a crap sandwich and three pairs of underwear. And oh, by the way, I checked with Andrew. He told me to bring three pairs of underwear; turns out he only needed one.