"Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:30 – 31)
What is it about the human tenacity to life and survival? Where do we draw our strength from? It’s not until you sign yourself up for something like Outward Bound like you can start contemplating this in a very real way. Of course, there are very different forms of strength and many of them don’t require you to go on three-day hikes to develop them further.
There is a beautiful link between the raw and awesome force of the natural world, and the eternal source of strength, our God. Outward Bound was a beautiful opportunity for me to encounter this very present and visible show of divine power. Out of pure love and will, God created the mountains and coursing rivers. He lined clifftops with colossal trees and knows the heart of the earth’s core. Standing at sea level, it's easy to be impressed with the heights of the mountains and forests, but it’s only after you’ve started the ascent and committed to the climb, that you begin to appreciate just how little we are in the face of God’s creation. You also realise that your physical strength and will are definitely not as great as you had expected.
Physical and mental challenges have been used by humanity over the centuries to celebrate human strength and will. The Olympics, Marathons, Everest, ocean crossings etc. And on their own, they are impressive feats and worthy accolades, but a Christian understanding of strength necessitates that in all our successes and victories, that we acknowledge God as the source of our strength. Out of the thirteen people in my Outward Bound group, two of us were Christian, but all of us were pushed and came down to our last dregs of will and strength. As Christians, we weren’t necessarily stronger or tougher amidst trials – belief in God doesn’t give you super-muscles. But I would suggest that it gives us a unique form of endurance that can be applied to many things.
This endurance is based on the knowledge that there is more to life than trials, there is a greater being from whom all strength comes, and whatever our actions – small or big – matter to God. It's an endurance that bets on an infinite love for all and doesn’t baulk at the hard work in between the start and finish line. This endurance gives peace to those who have it - it’s the peace of the humble. Nature is certainly humbling and points out all the little weaknesses we have. I’d never been properly grateful that I have a proper bed, or a bedroom for that matter, but embarrassingly, sleeping under just a piece of canvas was my biggest challenge. Despite such challenges, taking on the elements can give some of the best rewards – sunset on a mountain top, where the wind bites, but the trees glow, the golden light illuminating tired smiles and sparkling eyes, and a humble grateful heart when you get to sit down for the first time after three hours of climbing – it’s a magical feeling.
It makes one kinder too – Outward Bound pushes everyone to their limits, but the organisation upholds kindness and support as essential virtues of a team. These aren’t easy to maintain when you’re running on minimal sleep and have to run and jump in the sea at 6:20 am each morning. Everyone has to find ways to think of the other people around them and be mindful of their particular challenges or fears.
Everyone should consider signing up for Outward Bound. You discover how faith feeds endurance and how it naturally suits a process of hard work and humility. And being amidst nature like that just has no equal. One learns to approach an encounter with nature the same way you would approach adoration, for you can find God in His works.