Shoulding All Over Myself

I subscribe to Outside Magazine. I love the really great writing, the articles about adventures, suggestions on places to visit, tips on living an outdoor life. And the Gear Guide. God knows how much money I spend when I see some new piece of outdoor paraphernalia that’ll make hiking and camping exquisitely finer.

REI Ad. Photo by Phil LaBelle, 2017.

On my recent travels, I tossed the latest couple of issues in my backpack. I hadn’t gotten to them in the run up to my sabbatical, and, with plane flights as well as some extended leisurely afternoons, I dove in to them.

I nearly missed the item that made the most impact on me. It was an ad on the back cover. From REI.

Now I’m an REI connoisseur. I easily head into my local store a couple dozen times a year. They’re my go to outdoor gear and gadget emporium.

One of the things I appreciate most in their advertising is the way they encourage you to get outside. They closed their stores on Black Friday so their employees could get time with family and, as they put it, OptOutside. They don’t often shill products as much as the way nature can better your life.

But this ad—pictured above—hit me. Hard. The fine print at the bottom reads, “These are the voices we’ve heard our whole lives. But they get harder to hear, the farther we go, outside.” (This ad is geared toward women, as you can tell in the copy. REI gets major props from me for the way they seek to empower women.)

Even though I’m a man, I know some of those voices all too well. The “Shoulds” that plague my inner life. How I’m supposed to be as a priest, husband, father, friend. How I should be more fit as a hiker. How I should be more intentional in my spiritual life. How I should get more done.

But the farther I go outside, the more those voices—and the mess they leave in their wake—become less boisterous. I trust that as I go further up and further in during the days and weeks ahead the voices will die out.

And in their place, I’ll find grace.