I am terrified of heights. More specifically, I recoil at the sensation of falling. This distasteful feeling has grown stronger as I’ve aged, to the point where just jumping into a pool is uncomfortable. My heart pounds, my mouth turns into a grimace, my stomach is full of butterflies. It’s not enjoyable.
So when my friend suggested I join him in jumping off the roof of a boat house into the lake below, I hesitated. Even though I wanted to face my fears and show them who’s boss, when I stood at the edge of the roof and looked down, my heart jumped into my throat and my brain froze. Three times I took a step as if to launch myself into the open air, and three times I was paralyzed on the edge, unable to force myself further.
Finally, on the fourth attempt, I stepped off the ledge and went airborne, dropping the 15 feet into the water below. I let out a yell as I dropped, not of triumph, but to release the uncomfortable feeling of falling. My friends cheered as I hit the water and swam to the surface. I climbed the ladder to the dock and watched as they followed suit and joined me.
“Ready to go again?” My friend asked. Once again, I hesitated. He said, “You’ve faced your fear. Now you need to show mastery of it.” As much as I hated to admit it, I knew he was right. I wanted to be stronger than my fear so I headed up the stairs to the roof to try again.
“This time, no hesitation,” he told me. “Once you start walking towards the edge, you can’t stop.” I stood against the railing at the farthest point of the roof, staring at the open gate. As before, my internal struggle took over. “What is this all about?” I prayed as my friends looked at me. As I focused my fear on the fact that I just don’t like the feeling of falling, I took it a step further. “What is it that I don’t like?” The answer wasn’t that surprising.
I don’t like feeling out of control.
Once I step off the roof, I become a victim to gravity. I can’t do anything to stop the pull downward. Just like riding a roller coaster, once I get to the top of the hill, I have to go down. I have no choice but to go over the edge.
I decided, “I can do this,” as I started walking. My heart pounded as I approached the end of the roof. I just kept walking, dropping into the muggy air towards the surface of the water.
As I climbed the ladder, I realized I didn’t feel like the master of my fears because it had taken me too long to muster up the courage. I had to go again, I had to conquer this fear.
I led my friends back up the stairs and started across the rooftop. The gate was closed, and I stopped at the gate to open it and look at the water below. Contempt filled my voice as I said, “F— this,” and stepped out without hesitation. My friends at the top whooped and hollered in support as I surfaced.
We walked back up towards the house, three times being enough for me. I shared the internal struggle I went through on the roof and tried to understand what it meant for the future.
Because as I stood there, pondering the sensation of falling, I realized I experience that feeling in other areas of my life. I feel that way when I think about the book I’m writing, and the possibility that someone outside my family actually buys it. When consider my daughter, growing up, driving by herself, getting married, I can barely breathe. I almost pass out when I imagine seeing my wife one day get baptized, professing a new-found faith in Jesus.
These are all good things. Wonderful things. Dreams-coming-true sorts of things. And they all make me feel the same way as dropping off a deck. My heart flutters in my throat, my mind whirls, my body clenches.
The fear wants to paralyze me. The fear causes me to cling to the concept of control, to try to do everything perfectly. If I do it just right, maybe I can make these great things occur.
The Christian walk is full of “F” words.
Father. Faith. Follow. Fellowship. Forgiveness. Fruit. We know a lot of negative “F” words too. Fear. Failure. Fall. Flesh.
I made a choice on the rooftop. Even though the fear was rising, trying to choke and paralyze me into inaction, I realized I don’t need to be on a roof to feel like this. Anytime I try to pursue a calling that feels greater than my ability to make it happen, I get choked up. “How can I do something like that? I don’t belong here.” I shrink back from the edge.
Enough. I will not be a slave to my fear because I have the power of God within me. I am bought with the blood of Jesus and if God is for me, who can stand against me? When the fear comes, I know the right “F” word.
My faith is not in myself, or in my feelings. My faith is in my Father who loves me, and has forgiven me and I choose to follow Him through my fear.
And if the fear gets too big, too dizzying, too terrifying, I can just remember the rooftop.