By CHRIS BATES
We had been waiting and anticipating for months to breathe the cool morning air and step into the chilly river water in far western Montana. Much preparation went into our fly rods, drift boats, food and other gear. There are many things revitalizing about disconnecting from our devices and connecting with such a beautiful part of nature. It was time to spend these days focused on the mountains, wildlife, experiences, and time with each other.
Every July this group of friends gathers in Montana for serious fly fishing and less serious comradery. On this most recent trip, we were all commenting on our seasons of life, our challenges, and our gratitude lists. Each man shows up with small or large levels of stress about life, families and careers. Each also comes with a strong desire to perfect their cast, rest well and enjoy the days with one another. Over the years, this group has developed a propensity for encouraging good casts for just the right drifts as we fish, and also for encouraging each other in our spiritual journeys.
We have learned that there are many benefits to coming together. It certainly is about the enjoyment of the clear, cold rivers and catching trout. It is about unplugging, refocusing and being rejuvenated by the scenery. It is also about checking in with one another around current challenges and hopes, followed by opportunities to offer encouragement, experience and prayer.
Most of us have heard, “For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV). While that is certainly about worship, it is also about strength. In daily life we are each focused to an extent on what needs to be accomplished. Whether caring for our children, making a sale at work, or striving to achieve personal goals, we unintentionally travel alone in many of our busy conquests. Even those of us with caring spouses and families tend to run ahead with blinders in sincere attempts to accomplish and do well.
To learn to navigate better, we must each be willing to take action and come together with others. Those others might be loved ones or current friends, and it might look like joining an activity at church or committing to an annual getaway with true friends. Christopher Robin said, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you” (A.A. Milne). Our willingness to engage inevitably brings both comfort and new opportunities. When one shares with another, and God is included, amazing things will happen. We gain the ability to listen humbly to one another and let the connection exist that Matthew is recounting in his quote from Jesus.
There is no greater gift than one person progressing on their path, having followed someone experienced who has gone before. The sharing of experience, strength and hope with one another benefits the giver and the follower. There is a quote attributed to John Wesley that says, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Thank goodness that still leaves room for grace, error and humanness. It also leaves room for interdependency with one another. We need each other.
We like to be strong individually. We like self-reliance and the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Too many of us, though, tend to storm ahead toward honorable outcomes but do so without the immeasurable benefit of strength in numbers. Reaching beyond our singular capabilities, and combining them with the talents and gifts of others, models what happens when we roll small strands together to make a much stronger rope. Whether our challenges are with a job, a relationship or a pandemic, our actions to gather with other people and have God as the connecting fiber makes us unstoppable. That truth and the benefits are outlined for us, but we must each take the steps to bring our own value and combine it with others
Chris Bates is CEO and co-founder of AgoraEversole a full-service marketing agency in Jackson, and can be reached at Chris@AgoraEversole.com. He and his wife, Stacy, and their children live in Madison.