At the dawn of a crisp fall day, I joined a group of travelers to follow a long-haired, wild-eyed man named John down by the water’s edge. Sure enough, this “baptist” quickly had us in the drink — searching for our shoes and shivering through sit-ups under a crushing weight of Puget Sound driftwood.
This was our initiation into 11 hours of exhausting physical and mental tests called the GoRuck Tough (GRT). Our guide was a decorated combat veteran of Army Special Forces who, if he ever survived on locusts and wild honey like John the Baptist, probably got a kick out of it.
We were not this man’s disciples, but our experience was similar to discipleship, especially in two ways: there was no way to be fully prepared, and we had to be a team to achieve our goal.
Once we started, I quickly learned that all the training I had done couldn’t possibly have prepared me for the GRT. I knew it would involve a lot of heavy weight and grueling trials, but I did not know exactly what I would face.
Likewise, followers of Jesus cannot really train for discipleship.
Discipleship is the training, which we are warned will involve suffering to enable us to shoulder an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). We must simply jump in, like Simon and his brother who, when called, immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus (Mark 1:18).
To overcome challenges and suffering, we need a team.
Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t really get this until several hours into the GRT. At what I thought was the end of my rope, I met my selfishness head-on. All of us were at that edge of defeat, but about whom was I worried? Me. I was ready to quit — and even that thought was selfish!
Broken, I had to accept my need to be strengthened by others so that I could strengthen them. From that moment on I heard more clearly the encouragement in scripture to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32), and not think of yourself more highly than you ought (Rom 12:3, Phil 2:3).
Sharing the load — seriously, a back-breaking heavy log — we made it, and discovered that we could do together what we might have thought impossible. All our strength and perseverance came from God as all good things do, and our part was to commit to the team and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
This, too, is the promise for those who follow Jesus: in working through the toughest of times together, we will see far greater things than we imagined when we first met him (John 1:50). The challenges of life and discipleship, through which God carries us, are meant to be carried together.
Ken Jarman is a scientist at Pacific Northwest Laboratory and a member of Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.