I had the coolest P.E. class ever this week. While half of the students were in the gym doing cardio exercises, I got to go do a high ropes course that we have on campus. I'd never done a ropes course before, so I was super excited. Standing in the circle as we all put on our harnesses, I looked at the obstacles available. They didn't look too hard or scary. The first one was called the Pirate's Ladder, an Indiana Jones style rope bridge with slats of wood for the steps and no hand holds. It was really high, over 40 feet, but I was ready to skip across it like they do in the movies.
I was in the first pair to go up, harnessed to a rope that went up to the top and then came down and attached to one of my classmates who belayed me from the ground. I climbed up the ladder, then up the little hand-holds on the tree until I reached the bridge. It wasn't until I was standing on that first slat with my arms wrapped around the tree that I realized how scary this was going to be. My partner and I had to walk across the bridge together, but that involved me letting go of this tree and grabbing on to... nothing. Furthermore, the bridge was shaking violently under me because of the increasing tremors coming from me and my partner.
"Okay, just step away from the tree," called the instructor at the bottom. I wanted to grab on to the rope, but it was behind my back and straight up, so it would only throw off my balance even more. I took a deep breath and told myself that everything would be fine, hundreds of people have done this already, and I was attached to the rope anyway. The wobbling bridge I was standing on cast heavy doubts on the dependency of the rope, but I finally turned away from the tree and placed both hands on my partner's shoulders, hoping to steady her and myself. We fearfully took one step, each with our right foot, and quickly joined it with our right foot before the shaking knocked one or both of us off the bridge. I looked down to where my belayer stood with the rope in her hands, and then decided not to look down anymore. I couldn't feel the rope really holding me, so I just had to trust that it was.
Slowly we worked our way across. The gaps got wider and wider between wooden slats. Soon, we couldn't hold on to each other anymore. But we finally made it to the other tree. After a moment of victory, I noticed that there weren't hand-holds on the tree, and there wasn't a ladder to get down. "Okay, now to come down," the instructor called, "I need Shelby to step four slats away from the tree." Hesitantly I obeyed, starting to anticipate what was about to happen. "Now turn with your back to us," he said." "Okay..." I replied nervously. My shaking was only making the bridge shake more, and I was getting terrified by the thought of what he was about to say next.
"Now lean backward off the bridge."
"Lean off; we've got you."
I took another deep breath. And I leaned off.
Before my feet had even left the bridge, I realized I wasn't falling at all. I was sitting completely still in mid-air, and after a few seconds started to lower slowly to the ground. I smiled and laughed, amused by how scared I had been compared to how totally comfortable I felt now. I didn't have to do anything, I just sat there in my harness and let myself by lowered, no longer shaking or trying to keep my balance. And that's when the spiritual parallel hit me.
I got to the ground and switched with my belaying partner. She climbed up the tree while I belayed the rope to keep her supported. As I watched her mount the bridge and hug the tree just like I had, I pondered the parallel I'd just seen. She took a step on the bridge, wobbling drastically and shrieking a little. I was holding the rope, and I knew that it was as taut as I could make it to support her. But from her position, she felt pretty alone. She knew the rope was there, but she couldn't feel it because everything in her was focused on trying to balance on this shaky bridge.
Often, I think we're just like that spiritually. We stand on something unstable because at least we can see it; we feel like it's more dependable than the God we're told to trust. We know God's there, but we can't feel it so we focus on the job, the grades, the application, the identity, or the reputation as our foundation. But somehow it seems that the more we try to balance it out, the shakier it gets. The wobbling makes us afraid, which only shakes it more. It's a cycle the at some point will lead to our worst fear: falling off.
But then it happened. My partner reached the same place I did where she had to fall backwards of the bridge. She was scared, but she'd seen me do it, so she went for it with a little less hesitation. As soon as she'd shrieked and let go of the bridge, she started to laugh in relief. "I feel so secure now!" she called down to me. I smiled.
"Falling off," or falling apart, or falling down, or losing it, or failing is often our worst fear. But perhaps that's when we realize how safe we really are. In this rope exercise, it wasn't until I was dangling in mid-air that I realized none of my safety depended on me - it's all on the one holding my rope. I know I can trust Him because He's held me before. He's held my friends before. I've seen Him hold the ones who willingly back off the bridge, and I've seen Him hold the ones who tumble off in fear. Either way, He'll hold, and we'll be in perhaps the best place we've ever been.
Feel like you're shaking on a wobbly foundation? Examine closely what that foundation is, and get off it. Feel like you're falling? Wait a minute, and you'll realize that you don't have to hold yourself or stop your fall. He's got you.
I learned a lot on that high ropes course bridge. And that was only obstacle number one.