Carving Down, Carving Deep: A Tale of Stewardship

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
James Wheeler Stream 480x300

Growing up on top of a mountain guaranteed woods to explore, but to find water I had to go down. After a spring rain, I’d follow the runoff until it met the stream where I’d discover waterfalls and pools. Farther down still, I’d notice how the volume picked up, creating rapids and carving walls along the water’s edge like a time-formed canyon, until it widened and slowed peacefully.

Nothing too grand where I lived, but the passage of time was evident.

Vocation is like this. Sometimes our work moves quickly and it’s exciting. Waterfalls and rapids. Most of the time, it happens slowly, as water seeks opportunity to run, with little noticeable effect, carving down and carving deep.

My own professional path serves as an example. Preparing to graduate from college, I considered whether I should go home and find a job, or follow some of my classmates into campus ministry. I picked the latter. I had little clue who I was, or why I was going down that road, but like the stream it seemed to be the path of least resistance.

After five years of full-time campus ministry (and more challenges than I anticipated), I had served in numerous roles, including chaplain of an Ultimate Frisbee team, church tech guy, preacher, philosopher, lay-counselor, friend, construction foreman, and worship leader. Did all this lead to seminary? No, I went on one camping trip and knew my life was forever altered.

The Ebbs and Flows of Stewardship

Researching ways to turn a camping trip into an outdoor leadership career was disheartening at first. The career ladder is not very high, and many think directing a university outdoor program is like being a glorified camp counselor (a high calling indeed; just think of the countless kids who have been blessed by camp counselors).

Yet this is where I went. Despite friends and family calling me crazy, my wife and I and our three-month old moved half way across the country to attend grad school in a field that few outdoor folks study: Higher Education Administration. I wanted to develop my care both for the natural environment and for the academic environment in which I hoped to serve. Two years of adventure later, I did what I had set out to do; I became a program director.

This role affords the opportunity for me to connect urban college students with the wilderness and with each other in meaningful ways. I walk them through how these connections can lead to care or to harm. But while the program has achieved significant growth, the excitement is already passing. I miss the aspirations I had before graduate school. The river has slowed down and begun to pool.

For example, one part of outdoor leadership is practicing and teaching the Leave No Trace ethic. When I first tried it, I was very aware of my actions, like placing my feet carefully to prevent smashing a fern. Thirteen years later, I care more deeply about this ethic, but caring is much less fun now. Gone are the days when I prided myself for walking off-trail in twisting lines—a practice used to prevent making a trail that others might follow. I no longer geek out about drinking the rinse water from my camp meal dish—a (decidedly gross) practice that prevents animals from becoming reliant upon store-bought food particles I’d otherwise leave behind. Now I just want to get where I’m going with as little energy as possible.

The Shapes God Has Made

Remaining patient when culture tells us to make thrilling headway is hard. We are told by our institutions and peers: “Live loudly!” “Chase big dreams!” “Keep moving toward financial success!” I’m tempted by these goals. For me, it’s a PhD. For you, it may be something different. But we have the same choice to make: power, pleasure, and prestige; or faithfulness to God, come what may. In deciding to remain still, we have the same potential for growth as when we are running free and fast—just different in form.

Water is such an apt metaphor. Many seek the exciting waterfalls and rapids. But what if you find yourself in a standing pool? When life and work are ho-hum, I’m easily tempted to seek something new. That’s when I have to turn around and look behind me, upstream. I consider the rock that remains and ask, “What shapes have my decisions carved? Where have I caused erosion? Am I more comfortable during the thrilling drops, or when the water pools, like now?” I also look at the streams that flow into mine and consider how my canyon is connected to others.

Be encouraged by the twists and turns. Be okay with the still and quiet. God is faithful whether we run or remain because both experiences shape us and our communities. He is always at work, building his kingdom regardless of where we are in our journey.

Carving down, carving deep.


Stewardship of Creation

The mission of Leave No Trace is to teach “people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.” It’s an ethics program based on protection and preservation. Biblical stewardship of the environment respects this high standard, then takes it a step further—adding propagation to the mix. We’re hardwired to create, so when God told us to work the earth and take care of it, he gave us permission to make beauty out of the basic; to turn raw ingredients into art, science, entertainment, and nourishment. How we do this matters greatly, and it starts with responsibility.

Our Stewardship of Creation series at The High Calling explores how daily decisions can leave the world better than we found it. We hope you’ll join us for the conversation.