My athletic days are long behind me but, at one time, I was fairly active in many different sports. I often played tennis—and was fairly good. I could hold my own in a game of basketball and loved playing baseball. One sport that wasn’t so kind to me was snow skiing. Of course, growing up in the South meant that snow was a rare sight. To ski meant that I had to travel to a ski resort of some kind or another. While I didn’t have a chance to do this often, it was always an adventure when I hit the slopes.
I’ll never forget traveling, as a teenager, to a particular ski resort. I was part of a church youth group and had the bright idea that slaloming down a mountain would be a great way to show my church friends what a great athlete I was. After what seemed like a terribly long drive, we finally arrived at the resort and got settled in our respective rooms. Everyone was excited and wanted to do something to burn off some excess energy. So, our chaperones decided to take us to the actual slopes where we were to receive some basic skiing lessons. Our instructor looked like he had been born on a pair of skis, but I had already decided that there was nothing he could teach me. His pretty sunglasses and shiny boots and fancy equipment—along with proven expertise—were no match for my natural ability. We didn’t have much time to actually ski that day, but just receiving those brief lessons was enough to mentally convince me that I was ready for the next Olympic trials. I knew that skiing could not be that difficult and I didn’t need some know-it-all instructor telling me how to prepare. I couldn’t wait until the next day and demonstrate my natural skiing ability to anyone that would watch.
I thought that next day would never arrive, but finally we were all aboard the church van for our short drive to the ski resort. Each of us got our ski boots and skis and the all-important ski poles to help you change directions on the slopes more easily. Most of the newly outfitted youth were off to the chair lift that led to the beginning slope. I had no desire to waste my time with the less athletic. I jumped on the chair lift that climbed to the top of the highest trail. No beginner slopes for me. I had received my one lesson and had no fear. It was to the top I went. I should have known this was a mistake when I crashed off the chair lift almost getting hit in the back of the head by the chair behind me. Somehow, our instructions the day before left out the intricate details of how to exit a chair lift safely. Nonetheless, I was undaunted and just looked at the near death experience of the chair lift as simply a mechanical failure and was not related in any way to my skill level.
The moment finally drew closer for my first flight down the hill. As I stood at the top of the hill looking down, I envisioned the wind blowing in my hair as I swished from one side to the other, effortlessly navigating around other less talented skiers. I dreamed of becoming airborne over small moguls and landing perfectly on the other side with no loss of balance. I saw myself racing to the bottom of the slope, approaching the ski lodge, complete with a final spray of snow as I stopped so eloquently at the finish to a chorus of cheers. Boy was I wrong.
I slowly used my ski poles to push over the starting point and began my descent. Immediately, I was not concerned about the wind blowing in my hair or landing perfectly at the finish. I was worried about survival. Nothing I heard from the prior day’s ski instructions mattered. All I saw was a wooden picket fence lining the side of the course approaching me at what seemed to be the speed of light. There was nothing I could do. There was no where I could go. There was no way to “look good” at what I was doing. I was going to crash. I was going to be embarrassed. I was going to be the laughing stock of the resort.
As I lay there in a pile of snow with the tips of my skis between two panels of the fence, I wasn’t sure what hurt worse—my legs from the impact or my pride. As much as I wanted to impress my friends, there was no way to “look cool” as the fence and I became one for a few moments. Suddenly, a ski patrol rescue worker came to my aid and helped me untangle and get things back in order. He made sure I was OK and shadowed me down the rest of the slope until I reached the bottom.
As I thought about this episode all those years ago, it reminded me how dangerous pride can be in our lives. I was convinced that I knew everything there was to know about skiing. I even received some instructions, but refused to really listen to what I was told simply because my desire to impress was greater than my willingness to prepare. I was willing to sacrifice even basic preparation for what I thought would be a great reward. Life is like that. Sometimes our pride of wanting to be more and do more outweighs our desire to prepare. We all have the greatest instruction book in the world with the Bible. Many of us have great leaders, parents, and teachers who are great resources for your preparation; unfortunately, sometimes we think we know best. Listen, learn and prepare so that you’re viewing life as a successful journey down the slope and not a failed crash from the start.