You probably know me as the generally friendly guy who is typically wearing some combination of jeans and a polo shirt on Sunday mornings. In fact, as my wife likes to point out, in addition to this my shirt is usually tucked in as well. I’m also oftentimes dependable, willing to help others out, and generally responsible with my actions. But this is only part of who I am.
I’m also a failure. I’m a liar. A cheat. A no-good, rotten person. And I try really hard. I mean, really, really hard, to keep it all a secret. It’s easier for me to keep it tucked behind my jeans and polo than to wear it everyday. But sometimes it spills out. And when it does – in both the trivial amoral things as well as the deeper “more sinful” things – it feels like death. I was reminded of this while Becky and I were in northern New Mexico this summer. It’s a rather long story, so I’ll cut to the chase and give you the quick facts.
Basically we planned to do a 44 mile bike ride one day, winding through some old mining roads near Jemez Spring, NM. It was all great and fun, until we were on the second half of the bike ride, at about mile 27, going uphill, against the wind, on a gravel road (way different than what the photo above led us to believe). It was at this point that my lack of preparation kicked in. I was exhausted. My legs were cramping. I was out of breath. I needed salt. It was bad.
Well, to cut to the chase, Becky and I split up (she was/is in much better shape than me), she road ahead for the truck, and I began walking my bike up the hill, against the wind, in the gravel. While split up we both hitchhiked individually. She hitchhiked back to our truck and I to the junction of a highway, at which point we were able to reunite fairly seamlessly. It was honestly somewhat of a miracle that it all worked out.
But then I left my pack by the side of the road. With my phone, my wallet, and credit cards. We didn’t realize it at first. Overwhelmed by actually surviving the day, my pack wasn’t even a concern. It wasn’t until we were approaching a checkpoint near the National Labs in Los Alamos in which I needed to show my ID that I realized my pack was not in the truck. And when we had driven the 30 minutes back to where Becky had picked me up, my pack wasn’t there.
What happened next on my part was a combination of incoherent sentences best expressed by combinations of # signs, $ signs, and @ signs, as well as driving around to ranger stations, gas stations, and police stations. After 4 hours of searching, we decided to make the drive back to our cabin. However, an hour and a half down the road we received a phone call on Becky’s phone that one of the locals had found my pack beside the road on his way home from work. So, we headed back to get it, both exhausted and relieved.
When we finally made it back to our cabin around 11pm that night, we each sat quietly beneath the stars, scotch in hand, neither knowing at the time what exactly to feel. How did we survive a wreck of a bike ride, hitchhiking separately, losing a pack, finding a pack, all in one day?
Although I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I later realized what I felt: shame. I had failed. I couldn’t survive the bike ride. I had left my pack. All the events of the day pointed toward my failures. And although these were just some dumb “mistakes,” my unwillingness to own even my amoral failures that day speaks deeply toward my unwillingness to own any failures. I don’t like to admit I’m other than a hard-working, dependable, nice guy. I don’t make mistakes. I don’t fail.
By the next day I wanted to forget about the whole bike ride and pack escapade. It felt like embarrassing to rehash all the details, and I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t even really want to talk with Becky about it. We would return home and never have to tell anyone. What happens in New Mexico stays in New Mexico, right? After all, I’ve convinced you that I’m a good-natured, responsible, tucked-in jeans and polo shirt guy you see at church on Sundays, right? I can’t let you down!
But the truth of the matter is that I’m a failure, and I hide from this on a regular (daily) basis. I lie, I cheat, and routinely work to my own advantage, even to the disadvantage of my neighbor. If I can’t admit my superficial failings like what happened in New Mexico, how will I ever admit these deeper struggles?
But God is redeeming my heart. I’m learning to become a failure and tell stories of more of my faults and failings, even silly ones like what happened in New Mexico. I’m finding my story in that of Israel, who wandered, created graven images, and who desired to be like the other pagan nations. Who lived amidst the daily shameful marks of exile at the time when God became man. And I’m trusting in the Jesus revealed in the Gospels, who succeeded where Israel had failed.
As a result I’m trying to admit my failures – both the amoral and the moral – so that Jesus can be more believable and beautiful. It feels like death a lot of times. But somehow I think it makes things more beautiful.