My husband, Doug, and I took advantage of the long Memorial Day Weekend to go hiking in Yosemite National Park in California. Of the four trails we hiked, our favorite was Sentinel Dome.
To get to Sentinel Dome, you have to travel along Glacier Point Road, a road which opened for the first time of the season the Saturday we were there. As soon as we turned onto Glacier Point Road, we saw why the road had been so slow in opening: Snow that even at the end of May could still be measured in feet.
Our guidebook described Sentinel Dome as “your chance to climb one of Yosemite’s famous domes with minimal expenditure of time and effort” to see a view that is’ “everything you’d expect, a 360 degree sweep of the entire park.” After two longer, steep hikes the previous days, this sounded appealing to us.
Unfortunately, as we drove out to Glacier Point, we noticed that like the rest of the surrounding area, the trailhead to Sentinel Dome was covered in snow, leaving us unsure whether or not to pursue the hike.
At Glacier Point, we approached a Park Ranger who told us not to attempt the hike due to the deep, unstable snow. He stood there with his radio, ready to rescue the “first fool” who injured themselves on the hike to Sentinel Dome.
Hearing that was enough to convince me not to do the hike.
Hearing that only made Doug want to do it more.
So we went to the Sentinel Dome trailhead and scoped it out, observing a steady stream of “fools” returning from the hike. After talking to a few such fools who assured us the trail was in good condition, we grabbed our boots, hats, jackets, gloves, trekking poles and, at the last minute, rain gear and set out on the 1.1 mile, 650 foot gain hike to Sentinel Dome.
Normally, such a hike would take about a half hour. But on this day, the hike was a bit more grueling.
Because the trail was completely snow-covered, we were dependent on those who had gone before us, hoping their tracks would lead us the right direction. Deep, but melting snow, resulted in slippery conditions and slow, cautious travel.
On this day, the hike that required “minimal expenditure of time and effort” actually required a great deal of both, taking us nearly two hours to reach the base of the dome, where even our guidebook warned “The only way to go is up the steep, open slope,” which was supposedly slippery even when dry.
Knowing what the guidebook said about the final ascent on a good day, I was concerned about what climbing this steep, open slope would be like if it was snow-covered. Shortly after beginning the climb, I found out. Immediately, I wanted to stop and return to the safety of the base. But we continued along, slowly picking our way to the top. Doug went first, using his toes to “carve” steps into the snow, with me following in his footsteps, unable to look anywhere but straight ahead for fear of falling off the side of the dome to no where. As we continued our ascent, I kept thinking, “How on earth am I going to get down?”
But oh my word. Once at the top, the view was every bit as good as we had anticipated. Looking one direction, we saw the iconic Half Dome next to Vernal and Nevada Falls. In another direction was the legendary climber’s peak, El Capitain. And in another direction was beautiful Yosemite Falls.
The view was breathtaking – in every direction.
We stood there for what felt like hours but was really only about 45 minutes, savoring the beauty.
All too quickly, we realized that we’d better begin making our descent which, given my natural klutziness, I wanted NO part of.
So instead, we got creative and donned our rain gear, carefully inching our way down the steepest part of the dome before sitting down in the snow, backpacks and all, and giving ourselves a push, sledding down the remainder of the dome to its base.
It was an exhilarating 15 seconds; A moment of pure fun and bliss filled with laughter, squeals, and joy.
It was a moment that gave us enough energy, excitement, and adrenaline to carefully plod back to our car. It was the moment that made the rest of the hike worthwhile.
Unquestionably, it was the highlight of the day and perhaps even the highlight of our trip.
And in the week and a half since the trip, it’s also the moment that I most think about.
Strangely, the more I’ve thought about this hike, the more parallels I’ve seen between it and youth ministry.
Too often, people go into youth ministry because of the experiences they had in their own youth ministry. While it’s encouraging that people are so moved by their youth ministries that they desire to give others a similar experience, this can sometimes be misguiding. Those who enter youth ministry for this reason often do so thinking it’s a career that will constantly be “everything they’d expect, with minimal expenditure of time and effort.” For these individuals, the time spent traversing the snow to get to the base of the summit is grueling, disheartening, and overwhelming, resulting in frequent falls and in some cases, the desire to give up the journey all together.
Others of us spend our time chasing moments. While short, these are the moments that are fun and exhilarating; The ones that form lasting memories for us and our students. These moments give us the energy and endurance to continue plodding along in a sometimes thankless profession. In many ways, they make the youth ministry hike worthwhile.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these moments, there is something dangerous about constantly chasing them. When we, as youth workers, chase moments, we teach our students to do the same, creating a faith that’s dependent on “moments” but void of any connection to real life. While that faith may be strong for a season, for most, it will be difficult to maintain; Making it difficult to discover and pursue God in the ordinary, which is, in reality, the place where we most often dwell.
That’s why I’d argue that we, as youth workers, actually need to spend more time gazing from the summit.
Make no mistake, the summit is NOT just another mountaintop experience.
Instead, the summit is the place we go for clarity. Like Sentinel Dome, it’s the place that offers the 360 degree view that enables us to see all else. It’s the place where vision comes into focus; Where we can see where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s the place where we gain perspective – about our lives, our ministries, and our students. It’s the place where we reconnect with ourselves, our calling, and God. Once we’ve done that, it’s also the place from which we can see God moving – not just in the “moments” but also in the ordinary.
To get to the summit we need:
Patience: The journey will be long and sometimes hard. Companionship: Reaching the summit alone can be costly and dangerous. It’s much easier to reach the summit when you can follow in someone else’s footsteps, or at least alongside them. Courage: People will ALWAYS expect you to do “more” ministry – more programming, more time training leaders, more time meeting with parents, more time hanging with students. Seldom with they tell you to just spend time gazing from the summit. Courageous youth workers are not necessarily the ones doing more; They’re the ones traveling over the snow, slowly but surely making their way to the summit so that they can dream. Time: Copying other’s youth ministries philosophies and strategies is quick and easy. Daring to dream about your own is slow and hard. It takes time to get somewhere worth going and it takes time to dream about a path worth traveling in the future.
But oh my word.
When you reach the summit, it’s so worthwhile. It’s there that the view will be “everything you’d expect” and more!