The Long, Dark, Messy, Wet Tunnel


For years, I worked in youth ministry. Two things I now hate in life: Pizza. And youth. Just kidding (about the pizza).

Actually, one of the great joys of working in youth ministry was that I took kids on lots of trips. Camping, retreats, festivals – I enjoyed the travel and watching teens experience new things. A favorite annual trip was taking a youth group on the Elroy-Sparta bike trail in Wisconsin.

If you haven’t ventured to Wisconsin, you should – it’s where God resides – so you always want to go to a place that our Heavenly Father hangs out. God made Wisconsin so interesting, which brings us back to the Elroy-Sparta bike trail. This bike trail is 32 miles long and was a major railroad line.

There are three tunnels that you go through. Two of the tunnels are about a quarter-of-a-mile long.  Tunnel #3, however, is 10 football fields long, and more than three-quarters-of-a-mile. When you first go in, you can’t really see the end of that tunnel. That tunnel, like the others, is long, dark, messy and wet. Did I mention dark? You need a flashlight.

Whenever we would go into a tunnel, what do you think teens typically did?  If you guessed, “screaming & yelling at the top of their lungs,” you are right. The thing about teens — and pizza for that matter — is that they never know when enough is enough. The screaming doesn’t stop. And if you’ve ever been in a tunnel and heard lots of screaming – it’s deafening.

I can see the light of the end of the tunnel, but 10 football fields is a long journey when you’re with a bunch of screaming teens. My life has been similar to that ride through the tunnel. Long, dark and messy wet. And, along the way, I’ve heard screaming shadow messages about who I am:

  • “I am mediocre at everything.”
  • “I don’t have the ability to persevere.”
  • “I don’t seem to fit anywhere.”
  • “I don’t see any hope for me at all.”
  • “I am worthless.”

I started doing work in my life that took those shadow messages on. Most of it was long, dark, messy and wet. But then, something changed.  Crucible men came into the tunnel of my life with flashlights and showed me that, indeed there was light at the end of the tunnel.

And I noticed that as I got close to getting out of the tunnel – a few things happened. First, I began to believe the truth about me, and see myself more clearly in light of God’s perspective through messages of gold:

  • I am a talented man.”
  • “I am a Persevering Red Salmon.”
  • “I have a community of men who are my true friends.”
  • “I have a future and a hope.”
  • “I am worthy.”

Second, the deafening shadow messages subsided. Don’t get me wrong, I can still go there. And depending on the day, I can go there pretty quickly. But now I’m on the other side of the tunnel. And those shadow messages are faint echoes of what they were years ago.

How about you?  Where are you at?  In the tunnel? On the other side of it? What’s one step you could take to get closer to the light of God’s truth and out of the long, dark, messy wet tunnel?   And who can go with you on that journey?

By Tim White

Tim completed his initial weekend in 2013. He has staffed many weekends and leads L.I.F.E. Recovery for men at Willow Creek Crystal Lake. With an M.Div from Bethel Seminary, he’s a former senior pastor and now pastoral coach. Tim fulfills his mission by guiding men to greater connection through vulnerable transparency.  

Photo Credit: Tim White