New experiences bring up all sorts of emotions: excitement, apprehension, doubt, and fear. It’s the “butterflies in your stomach” on the day of tryouts, or your insides “tied in knots” as you begin your first day on the job. Thoughts inch in like, “What if I fail?” “What if I don’t fit it?” “What if it’s too hard or it doesn’t work?” For many people, this fear of the unknown and the pain of change is too big of a price to pay. Instead, we sit still instead and reassure ourselves with “Maybe I’ll try again next time, next semester, next month, or next year.” But here’s the hard reality: Choosing what’s comfortable now to avoid pain and discomfort is the very thing that keeps us in that pain. The more we seek to avoid adversity, the surer we are to be paralyzed in it.
If you’ve felt this way, you are not alone. However, you don’t have to wait until next time or next year. For over 15 years, hundreds of young men, all with stories of “maybe next time” moments, found the courage to step into the unknown to discover a life that matters. We take a pretty simple approach at Narrow Gate Lodge. First, we find a handful of young men who are asking life’s big questions. Secondly, we invite them into an authentic, daily relationship with others who are devoted to guide them to the One with answers.
The world we live in is a noisy place, and when asking life’s big questions, the noise and distractions can easily steal our attention, so Narrow Gate Lodge quiets the noise. Day one at Narrow Gate Lodge begins with warm greetings from staff, students and classmates, along with a table with your name on it and all the essentials for your next 30 days of outdoor living. Yes, I did say 30 days, and I also said it would take courage! With these necessities in tow, each new class hikes up to “Foundation Hill” to set up camp. On the Hill there are no phones, no Facebook, no News Feeds, no Instagram, and no Netflix shows to binge on. And when we get quiet, maybe for the first time in a long time, we can begin to hear again.
Once quiet, what we hear and what we believe is just as important. One of the first questions Narrow Gate addresses is, “Who am I?” We find that who we believe we are is usually the sum total of how we believe others see us, our shortcomings, and failures, and how well our performance has measured up to others’. But we ask how did you come to define who you are? Who told you, and is that source reliable or accurate? We soon learn that what you’ve done, how you feel, and how others have treated you, doesn’t define who you are, but the God who created you in awe and wonder does. There are over 170 verses that describe ‘who we are’ and ‘who we are becoming’, that we are redeemed, made for good works, forgiven, and full of talents and purpose. If we act in accordance with these great truths, transformation from the inside out is bound to happen.
Meet Raphe Boutte, the picture on the left was taken on his first day at Narrow Gate. In March of 2016 Raphe came to Narrow Gate Lodge knowing he was not who he wanted to be, but also no longer willling to be who he was. So, along with 4 other young men, Raphe left the ‘same old’ behind hoping he’d find there was more to life than just existing. During the first 35 days, known as the Foundation Phase, Raphe and his classmates ate together, camped together, worked together, asked questions together, and also began to find answers together.
Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For each one who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.”
In the quiet hills of Duck River, TN, Raphe did the hard work of asking, seeking, and knocking, and God was true to his promises. Not only did Raphe discover a life that matters, but he has spent the last 4 years helping other young men just like him discover that kind of life, too. About a year separates the two photos above, the second taken as Raphe celebrated the baptism of another young man like him, another young man who while at Narrow Gate discovered a life that matters. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I think they’re right.
Eric Davis, Program Director, Narrow Gate Lodge