Nick Holliday shares his story of grappling with understanding his true identity as a child of God. Doing so has forced him to let go of his own ambitions in life to focus on just who our Father in Heaven has created him to be.
Don’t look down, but at the same time when you look up you can’t even see the summit. The tendons in your hands cramp vigorously. The barbed rock shred your fingers’ stubborn calluses to the dry bone. Little by little the skin of parched palms cracks wider.
Chalk is the only ointment for these tortured hands. And a chunky Cliff Bar is the key ingredient to perseverance. It’s you and your own thoughts up there. You tell yourself to take a deep breath and you remind yourself, “don’t look down...keep moving up.”
Keep going forward and keep pushing through the pain because the summit will be worth it all.
What Do You See?
I'm not sure about you, but all I see is an unforgiving piece of rock. Only a handful of people can see a gnarly line to climb.
If you squint hard enough you just might catch a glimpse of a slender man dangling from the jagged rock. That’s Nick Holliday.
He spent four years in Yosemite National Park guiding, climbing, backpacking, mountaineering, and skiing for an outdoor leadership school. You name the outdoor sport, he has most likely tackled it.
Outside But In Control
What is it about these wilderness adventures that capture Nick's imagination and interest? For him, it's the intense mental strength needed to stay safe when competing against the unexpected.
“I gravitate towards any activity that necessitates all of my attention. By necessitating there is usually a risk, physical risk, involved," Nick said. "My attention is necessary in a risky environment to keep me safe.”
And yet for Nick, it's not about chasing danger or wanting to walking on the wild side. Just the opposite. His love for the outdoors is all about control.
“There is something about the attention and the control in this environment that is really captivating to me," Nick said. "I can care less about the adrenaline high of being jittery and out of control. I want to have full control in an environment that is risky and to some degree have a mastery."
Challenging himself with these extreme situations is how Nick is able to push himself to grow and mature.
“There is an internal dialogue of how to continue to push myself," Nick explained. "I can get to a place where I am comfortable but it becomes boring. Continuing to push yourself in order to expand the comfort zone is a growing lesson.”
Space to Let Go
Climbing offers a breath of fresh air and a breadth of possibilities. It elevates a sense of urgency to pay careful attention in high stress situations.
Hanging on the side of a mountain relieves more stress for Nick than squeezing a little rubber ball ever could. The bigger the sky above the more secure Nick feels inside. The wild offers him solitude, peace, decompression, and somewhere he can feel more centered.
Ironically, Nick finds rest in activities like kayaking, climbing, and skiing. They are freeing because his mind has to focus on one immediate task instead of many competing responsibilities. Nature is Nick's intimate channel through the craziness of life.
Not Today, Son
After working for four years at Yosemite, Nick zipped up his bags and made the cross-country trek to Boone with intentions to further his outdoor adventure career. He eagerly went knocking door to door with his chin up and his head held high. He applied for a variety of full-time jobs with outdoor outfits. Each job he felt more than qualified to perform. Yet each opportunity evaporated as Nick was turned away empty handed time and again.
It was almost as if Nick's one true love had slapped him across the face and showed him the exit without any explanation.
In a lot of ways, the rejection shattered Nick's identity into pieces. He had dedicated years of hard work to strengthen his skills and perfect his technique, but he couldn't find seem to find his footing. Who was he if he wasn't leading outdoor adventures? Nick found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Maybe it was God telling Nick that it was a time for a change. Maybe he just needed to look deeper within himself, past the layer of what he does to the depths of who he is. But how?
I Am More Than What I do
A mentor of Nick’s told him to write down 20 "I am" statements.
He explained the concept, saying, “If you can break your neck and change what you do then take it off the list. If your mood can change one of those "I am" statements, then take it off."
The simple yet meaningful exercise resonated with Nick.
"I never liked naming myself after my title," Nick said. "I tried to identify myself as a climber, or I am friendly, or I am adaptable, or I am an outdoor professional or someone that is caring.”
One by one he crossed out all of his statements until he was left with seemingly nothing.
So what now? What lies behind that? Is it a faint whisper of the wind? Is it nothing?
What if I told you there is an intellectual designer yearning to draw near to Nick and to each one of us? What if I told you there is a Divine Being who has adopted all of us into a royal sonship? What if I told you that we can call this invisible deity, Father?
There is an intimate communion between you and God. And through Jesus Christ, the truths he shared and life he lived, we find our true essence, our true meaning, and our true value.
"Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals." —Psalm 36:6
Theologian A.W. Tozer said this, “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect one.”
Roll Up the Sleeves and Get Dirty
Ever since he arrived in Boone, God has been teaching Nick about his true identity in refreshing ways. One example is through the lens of servanthood.
Nick explained how he has learned a lot about servant leadership, in particular from a leader at Samaritan's Purse. ”I used to think leadership was someone who stepped up and took initiative in order to make sure the task was done," Nick said. "But it is less about getting the task accomplished and more about how that role is serving others.”
One day unexpectedly, Nick's supervisor scurried in and frantically asked him to fold a mound of T-shirts and count inventory before the end of the day. To Nick's surprise, the department director rolled up his own sleeves and began folding and counting. The two of them stayed an extra two hours to get the job done—together.
“His job description does not necessarily say he counts inventory," Nick said of his department director, "But he is a person willing to receive and to hear feedback and I am a person willing to submit and to listen.”
During his time in Boone, the time spent away from the outdoor industry has shifted Nick's perspective on how to lead as well as who he is.
“I am loved by the Lord. He sees me and calls me his child. That’s the only thing that can’t change in my life. My vocation will change. My mood is definitely going to change, what I am good at is going to change, and what I am bad at is going to change. I’m in the process of learning how to embrace that."
Just like that rock in front of him, Nick sees the path he must take in order to move forward. But he also recognizes that progress is made only by looking up and recognizing that the way forward requires everything. "I don’t know about everyone else in the world, but I have a feeling that this is going to take a very long time," Nick admitted. "Like the rest of my life.”