Recently, a new mother friend of mine posted the following status on Facebook:
“On the playground with [Insert name of child here] today I heard a child yell “I finally faced my fears!” in a wild tone of accomplishment. Why? Because she made it all the across the monkey bars…finally. My heroine.”
This got me thinking about a few things, but mostly about fear facing, and about how I used to face my fears as a child versus how I face them now, especially having faced quite a few scary events in the last nine months. I have always been one to think and over think each and every decision, and yet, decision making as a child seemed so much easier.
Take, for example, the hay jump in the barn from the 2nd grade farm trip. It had been a tradition for the entire 2nd grade to travel together to a farm in a rural area in either New York or Connecticut for three days. In that time period, we would work on the farm – milking the cows, turn over some dirt (pretending to plant crops, as this would be the closest many of my WASPy classmates would get to farming) and at the end of the trip, we would have the chance to play on the hay jump. This hay jump was a 20 foot high wooden platform built in one of the barns that allowed for just enough room for an 8 year old to hurl themselves off into the dewey hay below. For most of my classmates, this platform was barely off the ground. But for me, it might as well have been in outer space, as when I finally pried my sweaty palms off the wooden ladder and turned around on the platform to look down at the sea of hay below, I began to bawl. I was simply too afraid – both to climb back down, and to jump. Both options seemed equally as horrifying, and so, in that moment, I imagine that I planned to stand with my back plastered to the side of the barn for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until my friend Jason climbed up the ladder and told me that he would jump with me that I was willing to face my fears. Or rather, that my fears didn’t seem nearly as scary. Grabbing my hand, Jason counted to three, and together, we jumped into what seemed like the 2nd grade abyss, a second later landing in a bed of soft hay. By then, my tears had dried, and I was laughing hard with a great friend by my side.
Even into adulthood, I have come to many farm trip hay jumps – some with soft beds of hay at the bottom, and others, with concrete surfaces. But in the last year, the common denominator (regardless of what has been at the bottom of the hay jump, to use the same metaphor) has been the same, tough, persistent and diligent group of people to hold my hand. My friends have jumped with me, and at times, they have even jumped before me to break my fall.
I wish that I could yell across a playground at the end of this academic year that I have finally faced my fears with some tremendous sense of accomplishment. But in some sense, I have. This year, I have had to face my mortality – more than once – and I would say that I could qualify that as having faced a fear, or at least is having embarked upon the journey to facing a fear. And what is most amazing about that journey is that I haven’t had to do it alone. Like the hay jump in the 2nd grade, I have had incredible people to hold my hand, to jump with me, and to come along on the ride, no matter what the landing might look like.
Facing adult fears is certainly different than it is as a child, but in many ways, it is no different. Your size many change, and the scenery may change; but frequently, the way we handle it all is very much the same. We stick our toes out to the edge of the fear, test the water, and then figure out whether the fear is too great before we actually conquer it. And then finally, when the problem has been wrestled to the ground and we come out the victor, the celebration begins. Just like the child.
But Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Perhaps there is something to be said for handling our fears as children would. Do we close our eyes and jump, knowing (in faith) that God will catch us in the free fall? Or do we live our lives in complete and abject fear of everything that is “out there,” that could hurt us, or obstruct our path? Adult life is far scarier than when we were kids, but at the core of it all, nothing truly has changed. We still get up, put our clothes on and ask, “What are we doing today?” with the same grin and excitement that we did when we were kids.
Life truly is scary, to ignore that or refuse to acknowledge it would be simply foolish. There are things out there that can harm, injure or cause peril. However, there is more out there in this world that can truly bless and keep us thanks be to God if we just do as the little girl on the monkey bars did and face our fears one tiny (or big, if you’re especially courageous) fear at a time. This is why we are a people of faith; we don’t have to go at this life alone, but rather, we have a companion to face these fears with. I never would have made it through the last several years of completely paralyzingly frightening illness (and anyone who says otherwise is foolish) without the guidance, discernment, love and grace of God (obviously also with the love of my friends and family). But Faith in God is our guide through the tough and scary stuff in life. God is the beacon of light in the fear fog, the way to get through that murky deep mire that seems far too scary to approach alone. In childhood, there is this sense of invincibility that seems to melt away come adulthood, but with maturity comes a better understanding of God’s presence and love for His people, and so that invincibility is replaced not with a sense of “godness” or “foolish invincibility” or “insecure divinity,” but rather a humble trust that God will lead and be present with all that tough and good stuff that might be scary in the intermediate.
So jump. Go ahead and jump into the stuff that scares you. Go across the monkey bars of adulthood. Because God is spotting you, ready to catch you if you fall, and is guiding you into the next move. He has equipped you to handle it, and is ready to cheer you on when you get to the other side, having conquered your fears and become victorious.
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