Back in my rock climbing days my adoration of climbing was surpassed only by my love for rappelling. To zing down a cliff face, the trip made possible by a thin rope and a trusty harness, trusting my muscles and my wit to protect me from a deadly too-quick descent felt like heaven. Freedom. Grace.
Adrenaline pumping in my veins, I’d unclip from the rope at the base of the climb and toss my blonde ponytail all nonchalant.
Death-defying feats? No big deal.
Except I never liked the rappel until I was over the cusp of it. By midway down the cliff I felt at ease. When I arrived at the base I could clap the dirt off my hands and ask what was for lunch. But at the top, at the start of the rappel, before taking that first step into thin air I was commonly terrified. Quaking in my rubber-soled shoes.
On the cusp of descent, fear gripped my heart.
On the cusp of anything new, often that same knot-in-the-throat, pulse-pounding anxiety comes back. The same question threatens: What if I don’t make it this time?
I don’t rock climb anymore, but I’m on the edge of a cliff of newness in this season nonetheless. In a couple of short weeks I’ll return to church from my parental leave, learning again what it is to be a working mother and a pastor to a congregation.
This very Friday I launch my book into the world after years of work and prayer and months of editing, polishing, marketing, and more prayer. I’ve never done this before, and I want to do it faithfully and honorably and wisely and well.
Then this May our senior pastor goes on sabbatical for three months, leaving my husband and I–“the kids,” we joke–running the church as the most senior staff on campus.
I feel, as I did on those cliffs long ago in Kentucky and California and Tennessee and Wisconsin: some measure of trepidation. The “what ifs” are loud.
What if the rope doesn’t hold this time? What if my arms aren’t strong enough? What if the cliff is too steep? What if I fail not just myself but my kids, my book, my church?
The key to a good rappel is to just step off the edge. The key, I’m learning, to dealing with fear on all the other cusps of life, is to bring the fear to Jesus.
In Isaiah 43, the Lord speaks to an anxious people:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior[…] (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV).
Rather than white-knuckling my way down the mountain, I had to let the rope slide through my fingers, trusting that it was strong enough to hold me.
In these days of transition–back to work, book to launch, church to lead–I am finding myself leaning all my weight on the One who gives me life.
I’ll make mistakes–we all do, we all will. But there is One who holds me who is faithful through the storm, through the fire, though the waters rise and the cliff be steep. And in him will I trust.
What cliff do you face today?