Ever since I was young, I’ve been terrified of high places. I remember a Boy Scout hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains when I was a kid. We kept getting higher and higher until at last we found ourselves edging along a cliff, a sheer drop-off inches from our feet. My heart was pounding out of control – I thought I was going to die.
Fortunately, having since adopted a couch-sitting existence, I can usually avoid such situations. But thanks to the risky imperative of my ministry call and the magic of the web, the reality of my acrophobia still regularly plagues me.
Take the World Race trip to Machu Picchu this past week for example. You wind your way up a switchback road to the ruins. It’s spectacular up there. Waynapicchu, the famous, vaulting rock spire that provides the backdrop to all the pictures is a taunting challenge to those with a penchant for hiking adventures – which, incidentally, would be most of the World Racers.
It turns out that 28 of the World Racers hiked all the way to the top (including my daughter Talia climbing up these steps). Frankly, just looking at Ginger and Emily “hanging” (posed, but still scary) from a rock, or the picture of Amy Morris on top of Waynapicchu, the valley floor 2,000 feet below, makes my skin crawl. These guys are crazy! And part of me feels no less crazy for running a ministry where they get to put their lives in jeopardy like that. On the day that they were going up there, I woke up praying, “God, just protect them for the reckless things they’re no doubt going to do today.”
One day of vicarious fear like that is enough in a year. I can’t imagine living in the grips of fear for most of your life. And I love the way our ministry challenges people to face their fears and to lean into the possibility that God will protect them.
Yes, there is a healthy fear that protects us from doing stupid things, but too many people live in the shadow of an irrational fear that governs their lives. Who wants to become one of those overprotective parents, never allowing their children to grow up, never trusting a God who loves their children more than they do, a God who “has not given us a spirit of fear.” Why give in to the temptation to control what is beyond your control?
God wants to set us free from our irrational fears. His strategy is love. 1 John 4:18 is great on the subject: “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love.”
Fear of hiking Waynapicchu is one thing, but maybe you are one of many who is afraid to talk to your father about something he did to hurt you in the past, unable to see that he himself was plagued by past hurts, hurts that saddled him with fears that made him lash out.
And if you push deeper still to that dark place inside, how about the fear that your life will never amount to anything?
The irony is that so many of us struggle with the opposite fear – a fear that there is greatness within us that we have yet to tap. Now there is a fear that is worth facing.