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How what you lack is the best compass

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Domaine public - Pxhere

Fr. Alex Wyvill - published on 05/09/23

When we realize what we lack we see what matters most.

As an avid rock climber, I still remember my first “big” climb: a long route up the shoulder of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The noonday sun beat down on our backs as my partner and I hiked in. By the time we reached the base of the climb, we were two hours behind schedule and — whoops! — I heard a slurp as I drew the last drop of water from our reserves. Unfazed, my partner reminded me that he had brought another bottle in the pack, which — whoops! — I had already consumed back in the parking lot. Peeved by my hasty hydration, my friend shook his head, turned around, and trudged up the first section of technical climbing. The going was slow, largely due to the heat and our thirst. Having planned to finish around 4 o’clock, we instead summited after dark, around 9 o’clock.

My tongue felt dryer than sand. My only thought was water. There was no time for taking photos, no time to call friends and family. We needed to get down, to get water.

As we slogged back down the trail, I heard a taunting trickle: a fresh stream ran parallel to our trail, just out of reach in the deep night of the woods. After hours of this torment, we finally crossed paths with the stream. Dizzy with excitement, I filled my bottle from an eddy and inhaled two liters of dirty water. The alarm bells in my body calmed at once. Relief! Just then, I felt a pang in my stomach. I realized: I’m starving! I opened up the pack and wolfed down two granola bars. Then, another surprise as my teeth began to chatter. I’m freezing! I threw on a big jacket and tucked my hands into the pockets.

Part by part, my body had allowed me to feel its lack. A lack of water, a lack of food, a lack of warmth. These lacks came one by one, like a compass magnetizing to the most important problem.

Eight years later, something about that experience still sticks with me: mylackwas the compass to what mattered most. Time and time again, I might try to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, but I am never able to avoid experiences of inadequacy, failure, and lack altogether. But lack is not a problem to be avoided. Rather, it is a chance to realize what matters most to me.

Maybe that is why God became a poor man who had experiences of inadequacy, failure, and lack — to help us realize what matters most to him. Jesus’ lack, his cry of “I thirst” from the cross, is a thirst not for water, but for you. That means you are what matters most to him. You are God’s compass. Conscious of so deep a love, how do you wish to respond?


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

The Human Being Fully Alive
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