I recently had the opportunity to spend the weekend at Grand Canyon National Park with 47 Airmen from Luke Air Force Base and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Besides being able to escape the heat of Phoenix, I was looking forward to the weekend because it combined two of my favorite things: ministry and Grand Canyon National Park.
I often tell people I have the best job in the Air Force. To me it’s not really a job. I have the honor of serving Airman, of meeting them where they are on their journey in the Air Force and the privilege of walking alongside them.
That weekend, we hiked through the top three layers of Grand Canyon out to Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail. There was ample time to reflect upon what made the desert pastel layers. There are nine major rock layers in Grand Canyon, with the oldest layer of rock at the bottom of the canyon and the newest layer on top covering billions of years of earth history. One of the upper layers we hiked through is Coconino Sandstone. It is a fossilized sand dune desert. The profiles of dunes can be seen on the exposed walls of this layer. Other layers were deposited in deep oceans or river deltas as the canyon evolved through time. Each layer tells a story of vast time periods.
We started our hike much like we start relationships with our friends and coworkers: on the surface. We typically carry our newest experiences closest to the surface. This is similar to the fact that only about 5% of visitors to the Grand Canyon actually go below the rim. We can be like that ourselves, only willing to show a select few the deeper layers within us, avoiding being vulnerable, avoiding the possibility of getting hurt. We can be like that with others as well, only seeking to know them at surface level avoiding going deep.
If we are open to being vulnerable and getting to know people more genuinely we begin to discover their deeper layers. We learn their stories and what it took to create their layers. Each of the layers within us, like those in Grand Canyon, vary in thickness and fragility. Some chip away easily and can cause us to slip and slide, while other layers are thicker and stronger, creating a support for future layers to form.
At this time when there is so much emphasis and attention on suicide and what might be causing people to consider and even complete suicide, I encourage you to look at each person around you in depth. Look for their beauty. Look at the layers of their experiences. But don’t be like the 95% of visitors that stay at the surface. Put on your hiking boots, grab your hydration pack, and walk alongside them, journeying deeper, discovering the beauty that lies within their story.