Lessons on a Mountain Trail

Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”   Luke 7:47 (NKJV)

Several years ago, I took a group of high school students backpacking in the Gore Range of Colorado and there were two boys that week that stood out to me. I don’t remember their names, but I can see their faces in my mind. One was very clean and polite, and the other was always dirty and often crude and rude in his interactions with me and the other backpackers. 

The clean boy was always at the front of the group as we podded up the alpine trail. He would, in a quiet yet annoying way, correct the other students in the way they put their packs on or laced their boots. If they didn’t get the rhythmic breathing correct, he could hear it and would nag them that their syncopated breathing was making it difficult for him to breathe correctly. (no one knew what syncopated meant)

In the evening, when we would cook supper, the clean boy was quite critical of the taste of the food.  Too spicy, too bland, too hot, too cold….  He was very insistent that the dishes be spotless before he used the bowl or plate.  He washed his hair every day.  He brushed his teeth three times a day.  When it came time to pray his hand would always shoot up. He was the first to volunteer answers during Bible devotions. He was clean, proper, and polite. He knew the Bible very well and would often quote verses to us unsolicited. 

The dirty boy on the hand was quite the opposite. He couldn’t keep up with the rest of the students.  He never picked up the rhythmic breathing technique. His nose was always running. He didn’t bring a handkerchief, so I had to let him borrow (quickly keep) one of mine. He didn’t like to use it. I have never seen anyone who had snot flowing from their nose so much and not be self-conscious about it at all. It would ooze out in slimy streams of clear goo and hang from the end of his nose as his head leaned forward while he walked. Every time we would stop, I would tell him to wipe his nose which he did on his already saturated sleeve.

Often, he would drop his trail food in the dirt and never so much as brush it off before it went into his mouth. He would only change his shirt and socks if I told him to do so. He was constantly telling me that he couldn’t make it. That the hike was too hard; his feet hurt, his pack was too heavy, and on and on the complaining went. He was as difficult of a hiker as I have ever had to deal with.

Two boys were never so different.

At the end of the 6-day wilderness trek, we would always celebrate the week at a local church.  A large meal of Bar-B-Q brisket and potatoes along with rolls and fresh salad more than made up for the week-long experience of reconstituting the freeze-dried backpacking meals in the mountains.  We would laugh at the experiences of the week like who fell in the creek, the worst meal, the bad weather, and the climb up a peak. Laughter would dominate the times around rectangle tables in the fellowship hall of some mountain Baptist church. 

Good times.

When it came time to say goodbye, I would give each of them a nickname based on some experience during the week and try to highlight a character trait I saw in them during the week: patience, encourager, servant, leader, etc. 

On this particular trip, I followed that routine. I would call them up in front of the rest of the group, recall some funny incident or touching moment and give them a hug and their nickname. Kind of like a rite of passage. It came down to the clean good boy and the high-maintenance dirty boy. I brought them up together. And that is where I was surprised. After the good-natured ribbing and trait-telling, I hugged them both at the same time, one under each arm. The good boy was as stiff as the rectangle tables and gave me half a smile. The dirty boy melted into me like a slab of butter and wept and wept, covering my shoulder with the mountain goo that had dripped off the end of his nose all week. The good boy couldn’t wait for the hug to be over. The dirty boy wouldn’t let go. I wish I could remember his name.

But this name-forgotten, snot-slinging, hard-to-deal-with kid taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes dirty boys are easier to love than clean ones.

the dirty boy and the clean boy

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, three beautiful daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness.
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4 Responses to Lessons on a Mountain Trail

  1. Ken Pierpont says:

    Thank you pastor. Good storytelling.

  2. Barron Geiger says:

    Really enjoyed that Joe, thank you. Reminds me of the time I participated in worship at a substance abuse recovery program graduation. We were singing the song “Rescue” by Jared Anderson. When we came to the chorus, the men, with tears in their eyes and hands lifted high, sang out, “I need you Jesus, to come to my rescue, where else can I go? There’s no other name by which I am saved, capture me with grace.” I’ve led worship in churches for over 30 years, and I’ve never sensed genuine dependency and gratitude during a song quite the way I did that night.

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