LEARNING FROM MY FEAR
I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In my mind I know it’s irrational, but I have a hard time convincing myself of that when I’m placed in that situation. Like any other phobia, it probably has a basis in some early experience that I never fully resolved as a child. Perhaps I heard a story, saw something on TV, or actually endured an encounter that I just couldn’t handle. Whatever the foundation may have been, the results are obvious …..my knees begin to shake when you get me 10’ above ground.
Technically they call it acrophobia – “an extreme or irrational fear of heights”. This certainly is not a serious malady, but it can create some interesting moments, especially if you’re married to someone, like I am, who loves the “rush” of being as high off the ground as possible!! L Two people couldn’t be more opposite of one another than my wife and I are when it comes heights!! Proving my love for her has led to more than my share of shaking knees, sweaty palms and nerve wracking experiences.
It started when we went to Knott’s Berry Farm for the first time in 1976. Her favorite ride was the “Parachutes” – a horrible contraption that took you almost 200’ in air, facing outward in just a little seat and a shoulder harness. They slowly took you to the top, hesitated for a few moments so you could “look around”, then finally let you drop in a free fall until you were about 30’ from the ground. Just for fun at that point they’d rush you back up half way or so and drop you again! From that moment on the Parachutes became her favorite ride, much to my dismay. Anytime we went to Knott’s my palms would begin to sweat just waiting in line! She actually took great pleasure in watching me squirm! HMMMM
As a kid I used to climb trees and jump off the roof onto the yard like everyone else. I would get a little shook up going off the high dive at the pool, but I didn’t think I was really scared of heights until I started to experience things like that parachute ride at Knott’s. Growing up my parents primarily vacationed by going camping, but once I started my own family we began to travel. On those trips my wife and kids wanted to do things like go up in the Space Needle, the Empire State Building, or The Washington Monument. They took great pleasure in looking over the side and teasing me as I would creep toward the edge. On one such trip they finally got me to cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada. While they ran across bouncing for joy, I held on for dear life and couldn’t wait to get back to solid ground.
Since then, my wife has got me to go up the Gateway Arch in St Louis, the CN Tower in Toronto , and the Sears/Willits Tower. At the top of the Gateway Arch you lean over to look out of a 45 degree window 600’ above the ground. That’s not half as bad as stepping out onto an acrylic box 1100’ in the air at the Willits Tower in Chicago. And though I made it to the top of the CN Tower, there was no way I would ever do what some folks paid good money to do– walk around the outside of the CN Tower hooked just to a harness and a wire! I did volunteer to go with her to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris….though I wasn’t real thrilled about the glass elevator on the way up or looking over the side once we got there!
While I willingly agreed on my own to ride a gondola to the top of a Swiss Alp a couple of years ago, you’ll never catch me even thinking about going bungee jumping, skydiving, riding a hot air balloon or anything like that….much to my wife’s disappointment! I’ve often told people I wouldn’t have to worry about hitting the ground doing such things….I’d be dead before I got there! And virtual reality is definitely out of the question. I actually get nervous sometimes just watching such things on TV.
Fear is a funny thing! As I think about my own phobia I’m sometimes embarrassed. How can a grown man be so afraid to walk out to the edge of a tall building or enjoy the sights on top of some landmark tower with my wife and kids? Yet, despite my fear, I’ve actually done many of those things because I do love and trust my wife and kids!! It wasn’t easy, and I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it, but somehow I conquered those moments, shaking knees and all, and survived. I even have a couple of pins on my pin boards that prove I actually did those things! Yay me!!
Believe it or not, I think there’s an incredible spiritual point in all this!! God seems to have a habit of taking me through experiences that make me uncomfortable. I don’t think He’s trying to scare me, but I do know He’s trying to grow me. Growth often requires us to face some things we don’t really want to face, walk through some life experiences we’d prefer to avoid, and learn other things by having to make some tough choices in difficult situations. Like me stepping out on the acrylic platform on 110th floor of the Willits Tower, that may not be something we relish doing! In fact, our first instinct may be to turn and run. We’d like to get as far away from that difficulty as possible because, from what we can see, it’s a long ways back to solid ground!!
Yet, through my life, God has always taken me through those traumatic moments in ways that I couldn’t really envision in the midst of the circumstances. More than once I’ve questioned His judgment and asked Him questions that demonstrated my own lack of faith. When I’ve finally seen what was around the corner it often begins to make sense, realizing I don’t seem to have the gift of foresight that He has. The many examples of that truth from my own life actually astound me.
For instance, a little less than 18 months ago I was fired for the first time in my life. I hadn’t really done anything wrong, but I had run afoul of some who evidently had a different vision for what we were trying to do as an organization. It didn’t make a lot of sense, and since then I’ve often found myself wondering why God would allow that to happen. Yet now, seeing how the Covid-19 virus has descended on us all, I am realizing how God’s hand protected me. If I was still in my former position I would have lost my job because of the pandemic and would have found myself in a pretty difficult place financially right now. As it is, my current employment continues unaltered and the financial implications on my personal life have been minimal. God saw that around the corner……I didn’t!
As I’ve considered that reality over the past few days I’ve been reminded of numerous other times in my life when God has led me through situations that were disconcerting, perhaps even fearful. Most of these were not situations I chose for myself, but rather circumstances that were beyond my control. When walking through that part of my journey I often found myself anxious, stressed out, and confused. But God always proved Himself to be faithful and taught me a significant lesson from each of those adversities. I became a better man, a more qualified leader, and a more effective witness. I may not have wanted to go through those circumstances in my life, but God used those moments to shape and mold me for the future. I’m stronger now because of what I went through then.
I’m not saying I want to jump out of a plane anytime soon, nor am I anxious to walk through the next crisis in my life, but I’ve begun to learn that God doesn’t waste any of the experiences that come my way, even if they can be a bit fearful at times. He’s promised us all that He would walk with us through such tough days and help us come out on the other side. Our task is to face those fearful moments head on, keeping our hearts and minds open to comprehend how He is at work. Our phobias of the unknown challenges ahead need not cripple us from moving through life with hopeful anticipation. We can be assured He is holding our hand…….even when we get close to the edge!!!