“Alright, everybody, listen up! Today’s hike up Tripyramid is going to be a tough one. Our time is limited and it’s a long way to the top, so we are going to need to be doing a twenty-minute mile up this mountain or we won’t make it. I think we can do it, but you are all going to have to push hard.”
The superior, Fr Justin, had been drilling formation of the will into the candidates for novitiate all week long. This particular overcast day, I was not in the mood for a grueling hike up one of New Hampshire’s mountains. I flexed my tired shoulders and looked up at the sky threatening rain. The worst part was, I was one of the mentors on the formation team, not one of the candidates. I had to make it look like I was into this.
Following through on decisions is difficult. This time of year, we all take stock of what we want to improve about ourselves and our surroundings. Losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, reading more, praying more, spending more time with family–those fundamental priorities of life we aren’t attending to typically loom large on the New Year’s resolution list.
How many New Year’s Day resolutions are really life changing though? We all know that most of those decisions aren’t going to see much follow through. Formation of the will–the capacity to stick to decisions and make them a reality—is something all of us need.
Tripyramid was an experience I will never forget, one which taught me the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned about forming my will.
We started up the mountain with gusto—even if I at least was faking it. Our twenty-minute-mile pace seemed do-able at first. Then the real climb started. Huffing and puffing up the steep gravel-covered slope quickly became difficult. The fifteen to twenty extra pounds on my back (water bottles and a breviary) didn’t make it any easier.
“Half-hour miles would have been hard,” I grumbled to myself. Then one of candidates started throwing up from the exertion. “Oh joy.” We kept pushing. Everyone must have been thinking the same thing I was. Our gusto was long gone. An hour and a half of clambering up the steep slope finally brought us to a more level path and some shade.
“Is this the peak?” someone asked as we halted at a high point in the trail to regroup.
“No, we aren’t going to make it. We are out of time. We set our goal too high today,” Fr Justin said. And we all turned around to head back down. I was fuming.
“What the blazes was all this for?” I thought.
After clambering down the long slope and traipsing through mud as it began to rain, we had to run a mile or so to try to make it back to the bus on time.
“What have we learned about forming the will?” Fr Justin asked once we had all gotten back on the bus and caught our breath.
“We didn’t try hard enough?” one of the candidates ventured.
“No. That’s not the point. The key to forming the will,” he said, “is not doing hard things. It is doing what you decide to do. It doesn’t matter if it is hard or easy. What you have to do is know what you can do, decide to do it, and execute. Today we overshot. Next time we will think twice about determining to do something. It doesn’t mean you don’t push yourself—but you determine your decisions wisely and what you say you will do, you do. It is just as de-formative to decide to do difficult things and not do them as it is not to decide to do anything. So use your head, engage your will, and execute.”
The miserable hike—and even the failure—was worth the wisdom we took home with us. I have never forgotten the lesson. This time of year it is always good to remember. Remember Tripyramid: use your head, engage your will, and execute.
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