On my long backpacking trip in the Wallowa Wilderness last summer, I was struck by the contrasting extremes of the natural world surrounding me. The terrain was either harsh or beautiful, life-sustaining useful or life-threatening - and frequently both, side by side. The extremes were not just noticeable, they seemed at times contradictory. Really Lord, mosquitoes in this drop-dead gorgeous lake valley?
Abrasive and unyielding granite rocks next to delicate and colorful wildflowers. Freezing cold ice and snow draining into refreshing, gurgling streams, which of course sustain wildflowers, animals and humans. High and steep mountain barriers that make passage extremely hard, dotted with delicate fir trees to enrich our oxygen, provide shade and campfire fuel.
Then the absolute delicious feeling of living life in its euphoric fullness, walking in lock-step with a realization of possible physical peril. Would my next step be misplaced, casting me down a rocky cliff? Would my stomach violently reject all the lightweight but inhumane freeze-dried food I was consuming? Would I encounter a bear at the worst time by surprising her with cubs nearby?
Yes the wilderness was extreme, but also for me, a photo-collage metaphor of everyday life back in Comfortville. There are plenty of emotional contrasts in our 9 to 5 as well. We say we take the good with the bad, but do we handle both well? We crave security, love and comfort, but we also get insecurity, heartache, and anxiety.
Success and failure, to borrow that word pair, are complete opposites, right? But are they really? Does failure amount to a terrible and permanent ending? And does success equal happiness and contentment, as some sort of moral achievement? Or are there hidden components of each for us to get to know, aspects more useful or dangerous than we might assume?
Success can satisfy and reward us for our efforts, but it can also produce arrogance and buffer us from Godly compassion. Failure can plunge us deep into self-absorbed despair, or it can make us rich, deep-pool people who find a way to "win" in a more subtle and rewarding way. Am I suggesting failure is the better result? Not necessarily, but perhaps with both contrasts, it's important to experience each in its mature fullness, and that we treat both with much care.