A few years ago, my family took a rafting trip, with a big group of people, down the Colorado River, and the guides had us beach the rafts near a certain bend. At this spot the water was very deep, and there was a giant rock, a cliff really, that you could climb up and jump off.
Yes, my kids were goading me, and no, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. But up the rock I went.
Of course, there were warnings. First, the guides cautioned that the jump LOOKS WAY BIGGER from the top of the cliff than it does from the bottom.
The second warning was actually a rule. We were all in bathing suits and swim shoes, and the formation of the rock was such that climbing up was much safer than climbing down. So the rule was, if you climb up, you have to jump. No getting up to the edge and having second thoughts.
About 20 of us ascended, and since there was only one spot from which to jump, we stood in line waiting our turn.
Wouldn’t you know it, there was a person who got to her turn, looked down at the water which appeared to be about 800 miles below, and panicked. Couldn’t jump. Paralyzed.
So the rest of us waited. And waited. And people tried to give encouraging words, which became impatient words, trying urge this person to just jump. You can do this. It’s not that bad. Just get it over with. Any day now, I’m growing a beard over here.
Can you picture yourself in this situation? Well, it’s not just a story about jumping into a river. We live in a fearful time, and I think this story matters deeply, for two main reasons.
1. I soon stood in the spot where my terrified neighbor had stood. When I got my turn, I looked down, and said to myself and the Lord Jesus, “Oh S---! It really is a long way down. What was I thinking? Why did I climb up here? I can’t do this.” And of course, all the assumptions and judgments I’d been making about this other person who’d had a hard time jumping, disappeared instantly. Because I suddenly fully understood the fear they had been feeling.
And that’s a very important lesson. It matters a great deal that we understand how our experiences are shared. We may not literally stand in the exact spot, and deal with exactly the same circumstances as someone else, but the fundamentals of human fear are universal. And if we ever think we can distance ourselves from the things other people are dealing with, and thereby congratulate ourselves for not being fearful, life has a way of reminding us our turn is on it’s way.
We need to remember that, as kindred in the human condition, we really are all in this together. Whatever’s coming for you is coming for me, too.
2. I realized there’s no denying fear. When you stand on the edge of a cliff, staring down is terrifying. Let’s not kid ourselves. In troubling times, we do ourselves a disservice by pretending that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Of course there are things to be afraid of!
But we have to confront fearful things. We need to remind ourselves, and each other, that we are capable of standing strong, meeting the moment, and doing what needs to be done, even though the situation we’re in is really, really scary.
We mustn’t deny our fears. We must face our fears.
Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, you never told us if that person in front of you in line ever jumped.” Well, yeah. She jumped. Took a while, but she managed.
At the bottom, I heard her say that it was the most terrifying moment of her life, and the stupidest thing she ever decided to do. It didn’t turn out to be ‘not so bad’. But she did it, because she had to, and it was okay.
Hang in there, friends, and may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa, seeking transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm
102 E. 2nd St. Davenport