How Outdoor Leaders Capitalize on Teachable Moments

October 11, 2021

If you want to learn from the master of “teachable moments,” you need not look any further than Jesus Nazareth. He taught in such a compelling way that people flocked to hear what he had to say. One of the common techniques he used to teach was his use of metaphors that can be observed in the wilderness. He used analogies to provide vivid illustrations familiar to people. He used common household terms like; yeast (Mark 8:15), salt (Matt 5:13; Mark 9:49), light (Matt. 5:14-16), harvest (Matt 9:37-38), snakes (Matt 23:33; Matt. 12:34), and foxes (Luke 13:31-32). [1] One of my most vivid illustrations (of the use of a metaphor in the wilderness) occurred during the ascent of a peak one moonlit night in June.

My wife and I awoke a group of eager high school students to ascend a peak in the middle of the night. If we started right away, we could reach the peak by sunrise (which is an unparalleled experience in the backcountry). As we hiked, each participant had to use his headlamp to light the path in front of him to avoid tripping over the rocks. Halfway into the ascent, we stopped and shared Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Several young people were able to draw metaphors from the Psalm relating to the experience of walking in the dark. One of them had a serendipitous realization that God desired him to trust and follow Him as his Guide-who lights his path. He remarked that God gives us just enough light to keep us from stumbling but rarely enough light to see too far ahead.

We continued climbing for five hours toward the peak. Hiking more efficiently than expected, we reached the summit early: it was pitch-black. The stars were bright and beautiful, but the wind was so cold that we could not stop for long before the sweat on our bodies would chill us-causing hypothermia. The group wanted to wait to see the sunrise, so we clamored down some rocks and tucked ourselves under the cleft of a boulder. We pulled out the emergency sleeping bag, and boiled a pot of hot chocolate. Pressing together tightly kept us sheltered from the wind. The hot chocolate was passed around in a water bottle for each to hold for a few seconds, enjoy a sip, and then share with the next person. We managed to stay warm enough; singing, praying, and telling stories, until the sun finally came up. And oh, was it worth it!

This experience of waiting for the sun to rise in the midst of the cold senderismo en reminded us of the conversation Jesus had with Peter and the disciples as He comforted them before departing to be with the Father. Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

In a similar way our peak experience was worth every bit of the endurance required to experience the stunning sunrise atop the peak. We too will experience trials of many kinds in life, but we need not be troubled. Whatever trials or suffering we endure is worth it because one day we will meet Jesus (the Bright Morning Star) face to face: