My Adventure On Gollum’s Turf

How do I get myself into these things?

Recently I was one of the speakers at a youth camp in the Vosges mountains region of France. I’m a strong believer that the message communicates better if you get to know the young people outside the services, so I tried to do some of their activities with them.

One that I didn’t want to do, though, was spelunking. An hour or so away, near St. Marie aux Mines, miners had chipped shafts into solid-rock mountains four hundred years ago, looking for something or other. Nothing was left but deep, dark, mines going who-knows-where, housing who-knows-what?

I’m almost 60 and there are lot of things that I don’t have to do to make my life complete—fly to the moon on a spaceship, sit in an electric chair, or poke around in spooky mines descending to the intestines of the earth.

So, why did I find myself decked out in water-proof garb and rubber boots, wearing a hard-hat with a cigarette lighter clamped to the front of it (at least that’s what it seemed like)? The world is strange and somewhere I had finally said “yes” to an invitation.

Friend, you haven’t lived until you scramble backwards down a narrow hole like a badger. When I finally came out in the large tunnel below I knew one thing: “I don’t like this.” I’m a bit claustrophobic and here I was in an old mine tunnel, standing with several slightly nervous teenagers, a counselor and an eccentric guide. (He seems to love these places).

The place was dark, kind of like you would imagine a grave. As the guide amazed us with the history of long-ago miners who dug these holes I wondered what would happen if there were an earthquake and I was trapped down there somewhere, with Gollum and the boys.

“Lord, if this thing crashes in, let it be a quick death, puh-leeese!”
One of my horror-story dreams is being buried and waking up in my casket, not dead.

As the guide neared the end of his instructions I made a decision. “When the others go on, I’m going back outside. I can’t stand feeling this much longer.” The camp counselor with our group was Christophe, an enthusiastic 25-year old. “Christophe, I’m a bit claustrophobic. I don’t think I can do this. I’m going back.”

“Why don’t you try it just a bit?” he urged. “If you can’t do it, I’ll come back with you.” So, very uncertainly, your fearless cave explorer descended towards his destiny.

A couple of hours later, after an interminable time of rappelling down walls towards the darkness, hauling myself up walls like a gray-haired Spiderman, after crawling through little tunnels and slogging around in cave water with only our cigarette-lighter hats for illumination, I emerged from the mines.

After a certain point, you’re so tired and so wrapped up with the next challenge that claustrophobia gets bored and leaves.

I enjoyed it tremendously because I did something tough, something I didn’t want to do, and I succeeded at it. This 59-year old body held up for some tough climbs, narrow crawls and scary descents.

And I learned that 59-year olds sometimes need encouragement from 25-year olds. If you’re going to expand your limits, it’s good to hang around with people who challenge you to do more.

Often what determines our limits is not what we can do, or what we can do if we trust God, but what those around us encourage us or discourage us to do.

“You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17, the Message)

Find people who encourage you to be more than you are in God and in life. And you be that sweet encourager for others.

I actually learned one other thing that day. Christophe encouraged me to stay by sharing his wife’s experience; she also wasn’t too crazy about it. “She was praying the whole time.”

“Prayer? Hmmm, I guess I ought to try that.”

Sometimes those who teach need to be taught themselves.


Religion is to a real relationship with the living Christ what pornography is to married love—a pale, twisted copy. It seems easier because it takes without giving to another, but it never satisfies. Go on to reality in Christ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *