Upon preparing to enter Gordon College, I was aware of the first-year outdoor education requirement– either Discovery, or an Adirondack Expedition. Even though I had outdoorsy experience before Gordon, doing trail crew and hiking often, I did not know what to expect. I actually didn’t even sign up for the class until arriving at Gordon, and my advisor put me in a slot that fit remarkably well in my schedule. So from the beginning, God’s hand was significantly guiding me.
Pre-college, I was characterized by judging things at face value and constantly relating them or comparing them to what I already knew and had opinions on. In other words, I did not take things and appreciate them for what they were. That being said, there has been a significant change from who I was in the beginning of August to who I am now.
Discovery played a big role in this change. I stumbled in, thinking I was somehow more prepared or more cool because I remembered to bring my hiking boots to college. Yet I was scared and reluctant to participate. Team-building activities had a history of stressing me out or making me feel less a part of the group than before. I was terrified at the notion of the high ropes courses. I expected this class to be similar to high school gym classes, which were not the most pleasant. I was afraid that the people in my class would not engage with me, or I would be too anxious to engage with them. I was afraid of being the last chosen. I was afraid of being incapable of completing activities. I was afraid of what other people would think of my failure or weakness. I let that fear ruin my attitude and cripple my opportunities before they were even presented to me.
And then God came in. And His people, too. Jesus says in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Being at Gordon, I can say that this statement rings true in such a resonant and clear way. The love and acceptance from others in my group allowed me to discard the fear in my heart. Suddenly, through connecting in faith, people I made assumptions about became entirely new individuals with their own stories and walks with God.
I am grateful that Discovery has such a faith-integrated curriculum. It drastically changes the experience for the better. I enjoyed how much our group prayed– it made me realize how little I’ve prayed personally. The devotions in every class framed the day and the activities, which gave them greater and lasting importance. The readings taught important concepts about success, freedom, and trust, and not in a generic, basic way. Success is not overachieving or answering to demands. Freedom comes from surrendering ourselves to God. I experienced trust in how our group listened to each other’s needs. In class, the relation to Scripture and the Lord’s call to us helped make the activities have a lasting impact because that call references our eternity, not just a few years or moments of our lives.
In the activities we did on low and high ropes, it was striking how necessary everyone was. Though the roles were not always the same, the end could not be met without the conjunction of all the working parts.There was trust and communication between all of us. Rather than responding in anger if someone messed up, there was a chorus of “It’s okay! Let’s just try again!” If someone was nervous or upset, there was a team of people supporting them. In this environment, I was able to open myself up, whereas before, my heart was hardened.
Being vulnerable, and therefore being able to trust, is what let me do things I told myself I would never do. My fear telling me “you can’t do this” used to have power over me. But I realized the fact that it had such a hold on me, such jurisdiction over my actions, was much scarier than any height or challenge course ever could be.
Yes, on high ropes, I was shaking. My body was in full noodle-mode most times. But I had a belay team below me, supporting me in every tiny, shaky step. They were there to make sure I didn’t fall. They were there to watch and catch my glasses if they fell off. And they were there to hold me when I came back down. They were there.
They were there.
And so was God.
I’ve very rarely been able to say that, but now because of my Discovery experience, I can.
By Ann Griffith ’23, Psychology major at Gordon College.