Trying to Prepare for the Unexpected

Unlike my son Noah, I’ve never been a Boy Scout. I’ve got five years as a den leader for Cub Scouts under my belt, and I’ve camped out with Noah’s Scout troop a few times. Even the uninitiated know the Scout motto: Be prepared.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to planning and thinking through things that I may need along the way, especially as I head out into the wilderness, but even so that doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything. I try to imagine what could happen and then fill my pack—bringing extra batteries, having something for blisters, carrying an emergency bivy sack. It makes for a heavier bag, of course, but I’m fine with that.

In his book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales explains that a significant issue for people who get lost or put in emergency situations is thinking they know what to expect, that they’ve been in this situation before. (This really is a great book, I highly recommend it.) In my case it’s “Well, I’ve hiked a ton in the White Mountains in NH, so I can handle whatever Kilimanjaro throws at me.” Except of course for the altitude—the biggest concern of the climb—and the remoteness and not knowing the geography. You get the idea. Which means I can never fully be prepared. I just need to trust the trekking company and the guides and bring the items on their packing list.

And so it is with a life of faith. We can’t ever be fully ready for the wilderness experiences when they hit. We get caught off guard, life takes a funny bounce, situations arise. Our best options are to seek out those who’ve journeyed in a similar place in the wilderness before to be our guides and to pray. Sometimes people think the unexpected is God acting out for something they’ve done. We go looking for meaning and when there are no easy answers, we suspect God’s got it in for us.

I know that’s the furthest thing from the love of God, that God doesn’t respond to us like that ever. God is compassionate and merciful. Abounding in steadfast love. God takes those wilderness experiences and redeems them, taking difficulty and creating new life.

And so this blog post about packing and being ready became one on trust and love. I’ve styled myself the Rambling Priest for more than the hiking alone. But if packing helps me to trust in the deep love and care of God, it’s all good.