Overcoming Difficulties6 min read
Risk Doing Something Different
“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”
Ernest Shackleton (Captain of the Endurance)
One of the greatest stories of survival I have ever read is the story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–16), also known as the Endurance Expedition. It’s considered the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Born out of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s imagination and his thirst for adventure, the expedition was an attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.
Shackleton’s accomplishment as a leader started with his selection of the Endurance crew. He handpicked some members, including two who had served him faithfully and performed exceptionally on a previous expedition. To recruit the rest, it is said that he posted the following notice about the difficult circumstances that lie ahead:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
Shackleton’s recruitment notice was brutally honest about the discomforts and dangers to be faced. When the Endurance crew members indeed encountered all of the above-mentioned conditions, they accepted them as best they could, for they had been forewarned. These men were not an uncommon breed for over 5,000 men applied for this daring, larger than life suicidal voyage! What they were is men who wanted to be a part of something bigger than them, and they understood that in order to accomplish this great adventure, they would endure weeks, months, and even years of being uncomfortable. These mighty men were willing to risk. They were willing to leave the safety of the harbor because they understood that’s not what ships are for.
Eventually the Endurance became trapped in pack ice, crushed and sank stranding her 28-man crew on the ice. Shackleton’s calm and confidence in the more dire circumstances were heartening to his crew. Commenting on Shackleton’s reaction to their inability to free the Endurance from the ice, Alexander Macklin, the ship’s doctor, said, “It was at this moment Shackleton showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not…show…the slightest sign of disappointment. He told us simply and calmly that we would have to spend the winter in the pack.”
After months spent in makeshift camps as the ice continued its northwards drift, the party took to the lifeboats to reach the inhospitable and uninhabited Elephant Island. Embracing reality, Shackleton made the difficult and dangerous choice of taking 5 of his 28 man crew on an 800-mile open-boat journey in the James Caird (one of their lifeboats) to reach South Georgia which would eventually lead to the rescue of his entire crew and bring to an end their 22 month Endurance expedition. Adversity drove these men to defeat the unimaginable. Shackleton and his crew were saved because they embraced adversity, faced the dangerous truth of their circumstances, and were will to risk doing something different.
Men don’t like to do anything where they’re afraid they are going to look stupid or aren’t “enough” in and of themselves. Men have bought into the lie that they have to have another man’s respect in order to feel good enough and as long as a man is afraid he’s going to look “less than”, discipleship isn’t going to happen. When you are on a team and you have a coach, you pretty much have to accept the idea that the coach knows more than you or can at least teach you something. You are less experienced than the coach in some areas and he is going to help you in the long run. When you are in a discipling relationship, it is the same kind of situation. Too often we just fight one another to be “top dog” instead.
So, in our fight to be the best of all manly men, we fear being “less than” one another and we flare our nostrils and stomp our hooves to take control of our territory. It’s been the same way for ages and it’s not working anymore. It’s time to realize that being a man of God means more than winning. It means that you are willing to take a chance on something else, to risk doing something different with the goal of getting closer to God and one another and in turn learning to live a life off the hook.
The tragic truth is that only one out of every 18, or 5.5% of men have been taught how easy it is to learn how to live a life full of Good News and teaching other people about it. This not only includes the men sitting in church on Sunday mornings; it includes pastors and church staff as well. While speaking at men’s events I’ll usually ask this question; “How many of you have every really had another man coach you or teach you about God?” I don’t mean in some religious accountability/performance based group. I mean man to man, authentic and real. The kind that says; “I know your “stuff” and I’m not judging or shaming you for it, and I’ll stick with you no matter what for as long as it takes!”
I’m not talking about a man simply encouraging you to go to church, get baptized, join an accountability group, or pray more. I’m talking about finding someone who will teach you how to walk away when you want to lock your wife in a closet for a few hours. How can you hear the voice of God when you haven’t had sex in six months? I don’t want you to hear his voice while you are having sex; that would just be weird. What I mean is hearing him and feeling content or at peace about your world when you want to have sex with your wife and she is not interested, like for a while, and you are frustrated and tempted to find other outlets for those frustrations. Sometimes you just need someone to lead you to the Father’s voice when he’s speaking to you. Someone to help you discern the Father’s voice from the enemies, how to fight off the lies of the enemy and how to apply and personalize scripture to your life, to grow, share, and serve in your faith. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to that’s safe. If you’re ever going to join God in the great adventure He has just for you, you’re going to have to risk allowing another man or group of men to not only know you, but to guide you and speak into your life
Shackleton survived and his men were saved because he kept choosing to do something different. Sheer muscle couldn’t break them free of the ice, withstand the -100 degree temperatures and 100 mph winds, or survive countless dark, lonely nights. Hope is what saw them through, and that hope came through the leader they trusted would do whatever it takes to find their way home. The Captain of the Endurance was training his men how to take on the harsh realities, confront fear, band together, and take risks in order to survive the ruthless forces of this dangerous world. They had to do it together and teach one another exactly what doing that meant.
We need to take a lesson from Shackleton. We need to risk doing something different. We need to be discipled.