This is my first post about an incredible hobby that I love: hunting. I suspect many of you may be turned off by this topic and want to move on. Give me just a moment, please. The lessons I learned have nothing to do with hunting, but about how God works to teach us things through every activity we do.
Lesson 1: The Journey Can Be More Fun Than The Destination
I have an incredibly amazing wife who last year gave me a whole week to go hunting out of a little house in Sumpter, Oregon with a friend of mine. I was excited all year for this event. I love the wild, the mountains, and the hunt. It connects me to God in a very real and direct way.
Every beautiful sunrise and sunset against the mountains shouts to the glory of God. My heart was rejuvenated by the time spent with a good friend and hiking through beautiful forests, meadows and fields. Towards the end of the week, however, I was starting to get a little bit sad. I was working hard, but no elk! I was in danger of pouting; of wasting this amazing gift from my wife. I still remember the Thursday evening right after the sun had set, leaning back against a tree. Even if I did not get an elk, I determined right then to enjoy my final planned day in the woods.
Lesson 2: People are More Important Than Accomplishments
Life is full of choices. When you’re with a friend, the day is much more fun. The gentleman I was with, however, was a bit older and sometimes had a bit of a hard time keeping up. There were many times I wanted to get going faster in the morning, hike further from the car or push harder to find the animals. Every time I gave in to that urge though, I later regretted it.
Being with a companion gives a depth to any activity. Now, I’m an introvert and I don’t love big crowds at all. That’s very different though than companionship. There are 4 Greek words for “love.” It will probably surprise you that “friendship” love (philia) was considered a more noble, powerful, and pure form of love than the romantic love between a man and a woman (eros). If you want to read more, check out The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.
All of us are called to this love that is friendship. Sadly we no longer prioritize good wholesome friendships that build us up. It can make a staggering difference in how you feel and how you live your life. Find good friends and spend time with them.
Lesson 3: Keep Your Priorities
Whenever we do something we’re excited about, we often become rather focused. “I hope my team wins the game tonight!” “I hope my product launch at work is successful!” There’s nothing wrong with excitement but its important to step back sometimes and look at the bigger picture. During one long hike, I said to God in prayer, “I only want to get an elk!” I’m so thankful he did not take me at my word!
I stopped when I realized what I had just said. It wasn’t true; I wanted to return safely to my family much more than I wanted an animal. I also desperately wanted my family to be safe. Upon further consideration, my initial request probably didn’t make the top 10! When we lose focus on what’s important, we can make some pretty big blunders. It happens to all of us, especially guys.
Keeping right priorities also opens our hearts to thankfulness. I realized that, even if I didn’t see any elk at all, a safe return to a safe family was something to be profoundly thankful to God for. This realization changed the feel of the rest of the trip for me.
Lesson 4: Thank God for Every Gift, Including the Unexpected Ones
Friday was my last hunting day for this trip. Friday morning we set out, slightly sad, but determined to enjoy the final day. We got a slow start, and didn’t make it out in time for sunrise. I’ll admit, felt a little bitter; God didn’t seem to be honoring all the hard work I had done. We had seen nothing. At this moment I felt discouraged because I did not realize the goodness of God’s plans.
We stumbled across fresh tracks, worked out a plan and set out in pursuit. With all the grace and stealth of a freight train, I went chasing. I never saw the herd we were tracking. My buddy, however, was much more experienced and much sneakier. I’ll never forget the sound or the rapid and excited radio conversation that followed. He got one! What a gift and on the last day too! I was putting elk meat in the freezer.
On the way home, I eagerly texted the good news to my wife, thanking her again for this amazing trip. You can imagine my surprise when she reported that she had had such an easy time with the children that I could stay an extra day! She gave me her “recovery day” to keep hunting! I felt guilty that I hadn’t given more credit to God. He was answering my prayer – the real prayer to take care of my family.
Lesson 5: Pray, and Mean It!
Prayer. It’s hard at the best of times but when we’re excited it’s almost impossible. I had been given this amazing gift of a bonus day and I was going to use it! I set a speed record on my morning Our Father prayer. The rest of the day was no different.
I always try to say a Rosary whenever I’m hunting and stationary. It’s a good way for me to keep perspective. It’s always difficult to stay focused, but this day was particularly difficult. I was distracted and lost my place. Even when I said the right words, my mind was thinking something else. As the day progressed, I started to lose hope. In a funny way, that made it even more difficult to pray.
The sun was setting, and I was sitting in a small field hoping for one final miracle. I said my rosary and despite how much I wanted an animal, I chose to offer the prayer up for the safety of my family. Afterward I finished, I looked to heaven. “Ok, God, I’ve made all my prayers for safety. You’ve given that to me, and I’m deeply thankful. This next prayer though, is different. I’m going to offer up one decade, and I want you to help me get an elk.” I said another decade, quite hastily, while mostly watching the field. Nothing happened.
“Well, Michael,” I said to myself, “if you want it to count, you have to focus and be deliberate!” I closed my eyes, and I prayed. It was hard, incredibly hard, but I kept them closed for all 13 prayers. I opened them to find a young bull standing 30 feet away from me. He was so close! He started slightly at the sound of my hastily drawn breath of surprise. It was only 5 degrees outside and I had to get my hands to my gun. I was too quick and too loud, and he took off towards the trees. This animal, a special gift from God, had run away.
God doesn’t just want lip service. He wants real communication. Does your wife want to talk to you while watching TV? Do your kids appreciate you playing on the computer while they’re asking for something? We all want real communication. God also wants your attention, your love. Give God your real attention in prayer. The devil wants to distract us and any distraction will do. I’ve personally been distracted by a speck of dust in the air. Give all your attention to God, and be ready to see Him work in your life.
Lesson 6: When You Mess Up, Go Back to God – He Wants to Help Us
In that moment I realized that I was not yet the hunter I needed to be. I was devastated. I had worked so hard, gone through the emotional roller coaster of the hunt and finally scared the animal away. It was almost too much. More in a state of shock than anything else, I didn’t move for a few minutes. You can imagine my surprise when he stuck his head back out of the trees and started walking back into the field.
How many times in your life have you absolutely flubbed something, only to have God reward you anyways? As I think about it, I realize just how badly I screw up: in my marriage, with my children, at my job. In each moment, I’ve realized I am not yet the Christian I need to be. Yet, despite all of my mistakes, God continues to bless me with gifts I do not deserve. I return to him in penance and humility and he forgoes justice for mercy. I thank Christ with all my heart for bearing my shortcomings.
Scaring off an elk will not even remotely be my worst offense that God has forgiven. It will, however, be one that I never forget. I did not deserve that elk, but God gave it to me anyways. I do not deserve my wife, or my children or any of the worldly gifts I have been given. They are all gifts from God. Whenever I lose sight of that, I am in danger of losing those gifts. God, out of love, will find a way to remind us. Keep your heart thankful, and you’ll have more to be thankful for!
Bonus Lesson: Make copies of your keys.
Copies of all your important keys is always a great idea, but especially out in the wild. Furthermore, don’t carry all your keys with you when you head into the woods. You don’t need them – the trees don’t have locks! The story is embarrassing and does involve searching through the snow with garden rakes. I’ll summarize by noting that even in our greatest earthly joys, God wants us to remember that life in this world is not and cannot be Heaven. I won’t make my mistake again, and hopefully now neither will you.
Question: What events in your life have taught you deep and profound lessons about God that you never expected?