I’m not a risk-taker. By which I mean, probably the biggest risk I might take is going on the school run without my rain jacket when the skies look threatening – and even then, why would I not just tuck it under my arm so I have it, ‘just in case’??!
My kids are rear-facing in the car until they’re at the limits of the seat’s capacity to safely contain them. They’re in car-seats until they’ve outgrown those restraints, and then into boosters until – well, as boosters with greater weight- and height-limits keep entering the market, and as I have fairly light kids, I guess they’ll be in some form of extra restraint indefinitely because I’m in no rush to move them to something that’s any less secure!
I’m at my most comfortable when I feel safest. I’ve had dreams about being cocooned in some sort of ultra-safe bubble, protected from harm and made extra-secure by a wall of shields above and around me, and (claustrophobia aside) I’ve been disappointed to wake up. Some people think that the cartoon version of heaven – soft, pillowy white clouds and no sharp edges to be seen – sounds boring; I think it sounds like, well, heaven. What could be safer?
So, when I was at a youth camp in my teens and one of the mandatory activities was a tree-top ropes course culminating in a giant leap from a wooden platform high above the ground (I’m not very good at spatial estimates – I have trouble negotiating my own shoulders through doorways – but at a guess I’d say it was somewhere between ‘super high’ and ‘extremely high’), I was tentative about the idea. Obviously this whole thing was a huge draw for the adrenaline-junkie campers, but to a Nervous Nellie like me it seemed an exercise in insanity. The idea of walking among the treetops didn’t sound so bad, but flinging myself off the platform at the end of it all seemed downright ludicrous.
I knew that this leap would require several things of me: first, I’d have to push my natural caution aside in order to even consider jumping; secondly, I’d need to trust in the ability of the safety harness to lower me gently to the ground; and thirdly, I’d have to put my desires to follow the rules and participate properly ahead of my desire to protect myself from harm. This last one was tricky; while I was a natural rule-follower, and I’d been taught the importance of participating, in this case both of those desires were at odds with my cautious nature and my desire to stay alive.
To make matters worse, we weren’t just supposed to recklessly plunge down from that great height – we were expected to leap up and out to grasp a bar suspended some distance from the platform, hang on, and then let go. Granted, either way we would end up suspended by the safety harness at some point during our fall – and we’d then be lowered gently onto terra firma – but this extra step added a further element of anxiety to the routine.
If I were a naturally brave and/or risk-seeking individual, perhaps this whole exercise would have been a welcome interlude in an otherwise uneventful life; however, for me it meant enduring the discomfort of my fear: that creeping feeling of dread; the prickly hot-and-cold of imminent danger (according to my fear-flooded brain); the heart-palpitating, breath-stealing anxiety I had to swallow in order to force my feet from the safety of the platform…
My knees felt weak. My hands were sweaty and shaky. My whole body felt tense and leaden.
I jumped. I made a feeble grasp towards the bar, missed it by a mile, and fell towards the ground like a sack of wet laundry before the harness halted my descent and lowered me at a more sedate pace until I was standing, shaken but alive, on the forest floor.
Not a very inspiring story, is it?
If I were one of those enthusiastic, hyper, rah-rah-rah motivational speakers, I’d tell you that I then got up, dusted myself off, marched back up to the ropes course, and leapt for that bar like I really wanted it. I’d have grasped my prize and let out a whoop of victory as I energetically released the bar and embraced the freedom of falling until the harness caught me.
But I didn’t do that. Because I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m just a girl. And I was just a cowardly kid doing something out of my comfort zone without any real idea of why I was doing it.
Certainly I wasn’t alone in my failure. Not everybody who tried for the bar actually reached it. But I know one thing: nobody who didn’t try to reach the bar grasped it. To put it more plainly: only those who leapt for the bar were able to grasp it.
Fear wasn’t my main problem, even though it seemed that it was at the time.
The main problem was that I didn’t want the bar. I didn’t really see the point of trying to leap out to grab hold of something when I was just going to end up falling anyway.
But now I do see the point of leaping for the bar.
Now that I’m a bit older – and, I hope, a bit wiser – I know that there is every reason to make an effort to grasp hold of something that seems beyond your reach. Because reaching for something beyond our grasp stretches us.
As I headed into this year (2015), I was aware of an approaching milestone at the end of it: my birthday. A birthday with a zero in it.
There’s something about certain birthdays that makes you reassess your existence; you’re forced to examine goals, past and present, and see where things fall on the ledger lines of life. For me, this is one of those birthdays.
All of those things you imagine, when you’re young, that you’ll do ‘when I’m grown-up’ – at what point to we become grown-up to actually do them? So many times we sacrifice dreams to excuses. We watch on, envious, as others achieve what we had hoped to do but haven’t done.
We chalk it down to ‘dumb luck’ or ‘sacrifice’ that has prevented us from following our dreams, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know it isn’t always that.
Sometimes it’s just that we didn’t leap for the bar.
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, or if you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m not talking here about buying that lottery ticket, following through on that flirtation, or walking away from the negative people who ‘bring you down’. I’m talking about those passions that were sparked in the heart of you as a youth – the way you were going to make a difference; the way you’d contribute to the world; the way you’d make the very best use of your unique gifts and talents – and which remain there in your heart, all these years later. Maybe by now they’re a bit jaded by life’s experience. Maybe they have the tarnish of disappointment, or a dent of rejection; maybe they have a crust of bitterness about how they’ve lain fallow for so long and never been put into action.
How about dusting off those dreams and polishing off those plans? How about re-examining them and seeing what’s ready for the recycling bin and what you can move into your To-Do list for TODAY?
Leaping for the bar requires a calculation of the distance involved, a readying for the jump (crouch, engage muscles), and a reaching out for the goal as you spring towards it. It requires you to put fear aside and ignore how far you’d have to fall if you missed. You also need to be willing to watch and follow the examples of others who have succeeded at grasping the bar, while avoiding the trap of envy when it seems easier for them than it is for you.
So, how am *I* leaping for the bar?
I’m working on being published.
I love to write, and it’s tremendously validating to have people read my writing; step one, which I took last year, was starting this blog. This year I’ve added a Facebook page and ventured into the Twitterverse to increase my audience and to hone the skill of saying something in fewer words (haven’t quite got the knack, as you can tell!). But the big step this year has been to put out feelers about some paid writing – after a couple of decades of always having to say that ‘I’d like to be a writer,’ being able to say that I’m a professional writer gives me a real sense of achievement,. My first paid feature is out this month – I leapt for that bar, and I’m hanging on.
I’m increasing my fitness.
I’ve started working out and running again. I’ve never been a natural athlete, but in the past I’ve challenged myself and got into a healthy exercise routine. This is an area I’ve been neglecting in recent years, so I’ve been preparing to leap back into things by signing up and training for a couple of runs – first a 10K, then a 12K – and towards the end of the year I’ve joined a group of friends who have signed up for a walking half-marathon to raise money for cancer research. Does this mean that I’m instantly fit? Nope! But am I fitter now than I was six weeks ago? I certainly am. It has been a huge challenge to find the time (and energy) for the recommended runs and workouts, and I haven’t always succeeded – but I am on track to complete that first race (even if I have to walk for some of it).
With these things (and other goals), I have to constantly remind myself where the bar is, why I want it, and what steps I need to take in order to be successful in my leap.
For some of those campers, leaping for the bar wasn’t really a big deal. Some were fearless; others were just confident in their athleticism. But for the ones like me, it had to be a deliberate choice to take the risk and make the effort to grasp something that seemed beyond our reach.
Have faith that you’ll be able to do what you were created to do: Leap for the bar.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
-1 Peter 4:10