Leading From a Port-a-Ledge
by Joel Bates
In the highly acclaimed film documentary, “The Dawn Wall,” pro climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson attempt to be the first to free climb the intimidating Dawn Wall face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Aside from their sheer talent and determination to make it up this 3,000’ rock face, the viewer witnesses the incomprehensible life that they lived for 19 days as they were suspended in mid-air, somewhere between the ground, the sky, and obsession. They weren’t just climbing the rock; they had made a home there.
When climbers predict it will take longer than a day to ascend a really high “wall,” they will usually haul along a port-a-ledge. This lightweight, mobile tent is fastened to the side of a cliff face to create a temporary sleeping shelter. It’s not what one would call comfortable, but a lot better than the alternative.
As I watched the film, I imagined what it must be like to dwell for so many days with only a port-a-ledge as a shelter. I got a sick feeling when I envisioned sleeping high up on the crag. I have this thing in me; I like to fall asleep with my back to the wall and my face to the exposure. Tossing and turning on a port-a-ledge would inevitably result in having my back to the great expanse of Yosemite, totally exposed to the void. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.
I was talking to a friend the other day about leadership--the triumphs, the struggles, the loneliness, and the unknown. Even at a little camp like DM, I still feel the heavy burdens associated with the weight of leadership. As we talked, I was taken back to the “Dawn Wall” documentary and the vulnerable, wide-open space, shielded by the port-a-ledge. It’s how I feel as a leader. There is an ever-present void that I feel with this responsibility—like when an aging parent dies and, even though I’ve been running my own life for quite some time, I feel an emptiness, sensing that I have lost some direction-finding, life compass.
I’m amazed how often I feel like there’s nobody around to give me the answer to the next step; I’m held in a vacuum of time and space—perplexing, paralyzing, and wondrous. Yet, in desperation I’m tempted to re-invent the wheel, cash in all my chips, or make stuff up just so those following me will think I know what I’m doing. It’s a sad state of affairs until I remember God’s Word.
Most of us are in leadership in one way or another. Do you have responsibilities? Are you stewarding something or overseeing a delegated task? Then you are shouldering leadership responsibilities. Maybe you have felt that emptiness, too, and just maybe you turned to God for answers.
During times like the ones we are living in, we need answers; we need comfort even when facing terrible emptiness. We need guidance. The Bible declares it is a light for our feet and lamp for our path. In Proverbs 3, we find often quoted advice: “Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge God.” This has held true for me, and I can especially see it playing out this year as we minister while navigating through the COVID pandemic.
It would take too long for me to recount for you all the ways God has provided for DM and shown me the next steps to take this year. But just the other day, as I was crunching numbers trying to make the budget balance, I felt like I was facing a lot of unanswerable questions. When I started praying for God to show me the way through this void, I heard His still, small voice remind me, “I will take care of the provision. You just do what I say.” At the end of the day, we have a Great Leader…always. His name is Jesus. He can lead us through any peril or unknown and redeem hard times into the adventures we retell.
There’s a scene near the end of “Dawn Wall” in which the two climbers, knowing it’s their last day before reaching the summit, linger on the port-a-ledge, sip coffee, and soak in the sunrise, almost afraid to leave the place that has held so much vulnerability to the void. One of them says, “I’m gonna miss this.” What they will miss is not the peril, the fear, or the deep unknown, but the turning of the corner, the dawning of the new day, the culmination of the story that is on the cusp of victory, marked by adventure and rich with real life. Because of the comfort of Christ…the joy of His presence, we can release everything to Him when it’s just too much for our meager selves. We can experience living and leading through difficult, vulnerable, and uncertain times as we rely on Him. Then when we see how far we’ve come with Jesus and we too can say, “I’m gonna miss this.”
2/15/2021 11:07:47 pm
Appreciate this Joel! It's such a good reminder that we can actually miss the trials. And it's hard to remember that while you're in the midst of them. This is timely.
2/16/2021 07:41:43 pm
Wise words as always, Joel! Miss your leadership and reflect on our days in the wilderness often. [2013, MPCC]
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