Tuesday, March 29, 2016

31 Days - Falling

I have a confession to make. Whenever I see the "trees" starting to grow in the gutters at my parents' home, I cringe and hope that my sister can talk her husband into taking care of the problem. No, I'm not really that lazy. I hate feeling like I'm shirking work. But any more than one or maybe two steps up the ladder and my heart starts pounding furiously. With the death-grip on the ladder, my hands wouldn't be much good for doing anything useful, anyway.

I'm also not one of those people you'll see peering over the edge of a canyon with fascination. Sure, it's beautiful. And I appreciate God's handiwork immensely. But unless there's a fairly high and very sturdy guardrail, I will be appreciating it from a safe distance. A very safe distance. Okay, maybe a slightly paranoid distance.

Because if I'm honest? I have to admit that just standing on our bed to change the direction of the air vent in the ceiling causes me to feel disoriented and unbalanced. I steady myself against a wall or by touching the ceiling because I feel sure I am going to lose my balance and topple over. Hello? It's a queen-sized bed, for crying out loud! Even if I did lose my balance, it's a fairly soft place to land! So why on earth does it induce panic?

I'm fairly sure it's not because my parents warned me against jumping on the bed as a kid....

It's because... my fear for the final day of 31 Days of Fear:

I am afraid of falling.

It's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. History – my history – proves falling can be dangerous – and that I have a certain proclivity for it! There's the ankle I tore getting on a horse in college (yes, getting on... that was fun to explain to the ER staff). And the other ankle I tore up several years ago getting down (yes, down) from putting decorations on our Christmas tree. And the knee I messed up as a teen on my first (and only) snow-skiing trip (yes, in Indiana... and no, I don't have any plans to ever go again). Falling happens. Especially to me, it seems. And it usually hurts. So there's some truth in the fear. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

When I first considered writing on this topic, I thought I would be talking about a fear of heights. I don't like being on the edge of a cliff... I don't like being on a roof... I don't like being on a ladder. But as I started thinking about it, I realized it wasn't really the height that bothered me.

You see, when we were in Hawaii several years ago we did a helicopter tour – with the doors taken off. The pilot warned us that takeoff can unnerve some people. We shot straight up and banked and I laughed out loud. Seriously! I loved every minute of it. Except... I did have a death grip on my camera. Truth is, I was even afraid to switch from my SLR to my videocamera – I was sure I'd drop them out the gaping hole of a door if I tried. I may have been strapped in, but my camera wasn't!

And a few years before that, Carl and I spent a day at an amusement park. Despite his fear of heights, I managed to talk him into trying Cedar Point's newest roller coaster, Millennium Force. At the time it was the highest, steepest, fastest coaster in the world, breaking six different world records. I loved it! My hands were up all the way with a grin on my face the entire time. (BTW - the hands-up isn't a show of bravery... it actually helps lift your body for that coveted "air time" – which I love!) It was a blast! At least I thought so. Carl hated it.

So... how can I feel panicked while simply standing on a bed and yet laugh out loud in a helicopter with no doors... or throw my hands up with a smile on the world's fastest, highest, steepest roller coaster?

As I thought about it, I realized it's not really a fear of heights. It's a fear of falling (or dropping something important). Still, why am I panicked on the bed and positively giddy on the roller coaster?

I think it comes down to one thing: trust. What am I trusting? You see, if I really look at it...

Fear reveals something about my faith and trust.

If I am standing on a roof; the edge of a cliff; or even my bed, the only thing I have to trust is my own sense of balance. Myself. And I don't trust myself. I know I mess up. There's fear; and quite frankly, a reason for the fear.

When I am on a roller coaster preparing to plunge from a staggering height at unbelievable speeds and I'm smiling about it? You have to know that I am trusting in something I believe to be far greater (and more reliable) than myself. I'm strapped in; secured by the safety arm. There is no fear. There is only joy and an anticipation of that moment of weightlessness where I feel like I'm flying; feeling free... and yet safely confined... by arms I trust more than I do my own.

So... fear is a flag:

Fear gives me the opportunity to stop and ask,
"Am I trusting in myself? Or Someone greater?"

King David wrote:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalms 20:7-8, NIV)

Chariots and horses were the tanks and fighter jets of the day. They represent the strength and power of men. But David says those who trust in them will fall. Deep down I think we know that. We know we're not infallible. That's why we fear:

We fear because we're trusting in the wrong things.

We trust in chariots and horses; in ourselves and things of this earth. And we know they are not infallible... that we are not infallible... and so we fear.


We fear because we're not fully trusting in the right things.

David says that those who trust in the Lord will stand firm. So if we trust Him – really trust Him – there's no reason to fear, right? God is perfect. His plan is perfect. His love is perfect. It's what we've been told all our lives. Sometimes we even smile and repeat it back during the tough times... maybe trying to convince ourselves as much as everyone around us. It's what we're supposed to believe. We're not supposed to question; not supposed to doubt; not supposed to fear. Because perfect love casts out all fear, right? (1 John 4:8).

But.... What do we do with that when cancer strikes our friend, leaving her kids with no mother... or a drunk driver takes the life of a child? What do we do with it when our spouse walks out the door... or our teen is trapped by an addiction? What do we do with it when we look at the harm in our own lives and wonder, "Where was God? Why did He let that happen?" What do we do with it when we feel like we're falling hard and fast into a pit of darkness? And what do we do with it when Jesus himself tells us that we will have trouble in this world? (John 16:33)

If God doesn't keep the bad stuff from happening, how can we not fear? How can we really trust Him to protect us when we know He lets us fall?

I asked my psychologist that same question a few months ago. He asked me to consider what it was I was actually trusting God for. As I considered it and we talked about it, I suddenly remembered something I'd written after another tough season over a decade ago:

August, 2002
About a month ago I asked a question about regaining the blind faith I realized I'd lost. I don't know that you do get that same "blind" faith back, but I think maybe what you do gain is even more valuable. I don't have that same naivety. But somehow my trust is actually, I believe, even stronger. Somehow I think trusting having seen the danger that's out there is more valuable than "trusting" while oblivious to it. It doesn't take much trust if you don't see the dangers.... Kind of strange to explain, but the faith I'm finding I have now is even more sustaining. I think that before all this I trusted Him to keep me from falling. It seems quite naïve, but it really didn't dawn on me how precarious of a position this life is or how hard a fall He might actually let me take. Now I trust Him to keep me in the fall and I think that's more than trusting Him to keep me from the fall.


As I think about that, my mind goes back to that roller coaster. My favorite part of the ride is that moment of weightlessness at the top where you feel like you're flying. But falling is still part of the ride; part of the plan. When that safety bar was locked into place and the ride started moving, I knew I was going to fall. No question. But I wasn't scared because I trusted those arms – greater than mine – to hold me in place during the fall. You see, they weren't there to keep me from the fall, but to keep me in the fall. Huh. Just like my journal entry.

That's the truth I need to hold onto:

God won't always keep me from the fall... but He will always keep me in the fall.

He promised through Moses:

"The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.
He will not fail you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed."
(Deuteronomy 31:8)

Truth is, that coaster was falling. I was falling. But I wasn't falling alone and that made all the difference. The arms were there to ensure I was held safely in the fall... controlled within the boundaries set by the creators; not flailing around on my own. I trusted the arms... I trusted the creators and their design – even though I had no idea what was ahead or how exactly it all worked. I trusted... and I enjoyed the ride.

Is that kind of trust easy in real life? No. Carl couldn't trust the coaster and spent the entire ride desperately wanting to abandon ship. And if I'm honest, there are times in this life when the ride gets a little rough and my head bangs against the safety bar and I think "This isn't so fun! I'm scared and I don't understand what's happening. Get me off – now!"

But that fear... it gets my attention... it asks what it is I'm trusting... and it points out where I'm not trusting. I've had to wrestle with that more than once. If I'm honest, I still wrestle with it. And I will most likely wrestle with it the rest of my life. That kind of trust just isn't easy. At all. But when you've wrestled it to the ground (yet again), for that moment you can actually grasp it... it's amazing.

The rest of that entry from August, 2002:
Now I KNOW bad things can happen... and yet there's more peace and trust than I ever remember really having before. I don't have any more answers now than I did at the point when I was angry, when I was throwing accusations God's way, or when I realized I'd lost my trust. And I can't tell you where that anger and distrust went. Only that it's gone. Only that once I admitted it, God took it. And in its place is a faith, but a different faith. Maybe it's kind of like the difference between believing what you can see and believing even when you can't see anything. Maybe it's the difference between just being oblivious and actually trusting. I don't know... but for the first time in my life, I don't have to look for answers. I'm NOT looking for answers, not trying to figure out the game plan. I don't need to know. My sense of well-being isn't based on figuring it out and knowing where He's taking me or why He's doing what He's doing. I'm at rest, at peace. I am just content to be.

You see... the psalmists had it right:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
(Psalms 125:1)

... we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalms 20:8, NIV)

So as I wrap up this series on 31 Days of Fear (& Truth) I'd just encourage you to ask, "What is it that my fear is revealing?" Are you trusting yourself, leaning on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)? Or are you trusting Someone greater than yourself?

Father God, thank You for this journey of looking into my fears and for the things You've shown me through it. I have to admit that it's still hard to trust sometimes. It's easy to look at the pain of the past and think I need to protect myself. It's easy to get scared and brace for impact. But help me to remember that the fall is part of the ride. Without it, there would never be that moment of flying. And while You may not keep me from the fall, You will always be there keeping me in the fall. You're the Creator. You've laid out the course and set the parameters. And I can trust Your arms to keep me safely within them. I will struggle with that, at times, Father. Probably more often than not. But I know that even in the struggle You hold me. And I want to be able to hear You say, "Buckle up!" and look into Your eyes with a smile, throw my hands up in the air and say...
"I'm in... let's fly!"

Fear: I am afraid of falling.

  • Fear reveals something about my faith and trust.
  • Fear gives me the opportunity to stop and ask,
    "Am I trusting in myself? Or Someone greater?"
  • We fear because we're trusting in the wrong things. (Psalms 20:7-8)
  • We fear because we're not fully trusting in the right things. (Psalms 20:7-8)
  • God won't always keep me from the fall (John 16:33)... but He will always keep me in the fall. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
  • Those who trust in the Lord cannot be shaken but will endure forever. (Psalms 125:1)
  • Trusting in God allows me to stand firm. (Psalms 20:7-8)


Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).