The ground was seventy-five feet below. I was standing on a precarious platform lashed to the trunk of an enormous jungle tree. The platform itself was some kind of plastic grid that I could see right through; I was standing more on air than on substance. Looking out into the jungle I could see a beautiful, breath-taking view, down into a ravine. Looking down felt breath-taking in a different way.
There was so little standing between me and a twenty-two-yard fall–this flimsy platform and a short safety line that hooked me to the tree with a carabiner. I knew (intellectually) that I was safe. But my head was still spinning as I looked down. Trust was hard.
I had ridden a zip line through the jungle canopy on an adventure excursion outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my wife and some other family. We’d already zipped between seven platforms to get this far. Some were far closer to the ground, but as we got over the ravine the ground fell away, and we flew through the leafy green, sometimes more than a hundred feet off the ground. This platform was a transitional point.
Now it was time to rappel to the ground. Rappel. Two people had gone before me. Now it was my turn. My guide hooked my harness onto the rappel hardware and then unhooked my safety line.
Then he said, “Just take a seat, Marc.”
Just Take A Seat in Midair.
He gestured off the platform into empty space. There was no seat there, just the rope I would be using to rappel myself to the ground. We’d gotten cursory instructions on how to control the speed of our descent. There was a second safety rope attached to me that allowed a guide on the ground to control my speed if things got out of hand. So intellectually, I knew I was safe.
All I had to do was bend at the waist and let myself sit down backwards off the edge of the platform. Just let go and trust my guides, my gear, and the fact that thousands of people had made this descent before me safely. But that was all in my head. My heart was pounding, racing, not ready to take the risk.
I wanted to go because of the experience; I wanted to stay because of the safety. For a moment I was stuck.
This is a place I have found myself in spiritually as well. I’ve lived most of my life in my head, taking calculated risks that I could intellectually justify. I’ve related to God through good doctrine and careful Bible study. I’ve read lots of other people’s experiences of God; I’ve even had some of my own. But the relationship I’ve had with God has been much more informational than emotional. That’s worked–or at least, seemed to work–for a long time.
But there’s been an enormous amount of transition in my life in the past few years. I’ve got a six-year old and a five-year old stretching the boundaries of my life. I became lead pastor of my church eight years ago. I’m twelve years into my marriage and it’s proving to be harder work than I ever expected. Oh, and I turned 40 last year. During all this upheaval, my life had been broken in a hundred painful ways.
During all of this, I’ve become aware that not all of my experience has been healthy. Some of my intellectual spirituality has been good. But some of it has been rooted in a kind of self-defensiveness, an internal screen walling off the chaos and unpredictability of emotion, a way of protecting my heart from unpredictable pain. The problem I’ve started to see is this: You can’t selectively screen out emotion.
Are your curtains open wide?
A counselor friend of mine uses this helpful illustration. Emotional experience is like a window with drapes. When the drapes are open all the way, you can take in the full vista–the beautiful and happy on one end, the ugly and sad on the other end. With the curtains open wide, all of that is available to you.
But we don’t like pain. All of us do different things to try and limit our emotional discomfort. This is like pulling the cord that draws the drapes. Pull the cord a little and the drapes on both end close a bit. Pull the cord a lot, and you can restrict the view to a narrow strip in the middle.
In an effort to avoid pain, we close the drapes a bit. But that means we’re also screening out emotion at the other end of the scale. Protect yourself from profound pain and you limit your capacity to experience profound joy. Draw the drapes tight with denial, or control, or substances and you limit the range of your emotional experience even further. Close them too tightly and all you allow in is a tiny sliver in the middle, neither painful, nor happy. Just numb.
This leaves me with a tightly controlled, rigid kind of experience in every part of my life. My relationships dry up. My passion evaporates. The life pursuits that used to give me joy don’t seem to work for me anymore. All because I’ve so tightly controlled my emotions. Even my spiritual life turns drab.
When this happens, I’m left with a tiny sliver of spiritual experience that–in the depth of my heart–feels like nothing at all. But that is not Jesus’ intention for us. This is not the place of abundant life, living like flowers and birds that receive their beauty and provision from the hand of their maker. This is not the place of faith, where we step into unparted rivers only to see dry land appear. This is not the place of hope, where we believe that lives can change, wounds can be healed, and the power that raised Jesus from the dead is well and truly present within us.
Trust God and risk and leap
Following Jesus is much like that moment where my guide pointed to the open air and said with a smile, “Just take a seat, Marc.” There’s risk. There’s fear of losing control. Of looking foolish. Of making a bad decision. But there’s also the promise that there is One with His hand on the safety rope of our lives. Will we lean back and step off the platform of our own preconceptions and control? Will we allow God to truly call us into a life of faith?
It’s a tremendous risk, living like this with the curtain wide open. But it changes the way we experience everything. There’s no motivation to thank the rescuer, if you don’t feel like you’ve been rescued. There’s no sense of gratitude unless you believe you’ve been given a gift. And there’s no exhilaration of faith, unless you’ve thrown yourself off the platform of certainty and control, and into the open air of faith and trust in the God who calls you to be a part of bringing His kingdom to life.
Where are you needing to take a flying leap today?
5 thoughts on “Trust God: Take The Flying Leap”
Marc, you are knocking on my front door, this week especially. I’m looking forward to sharing it with some other great women who like me are looking forward to contributing to His Kingdom. Thank you for this post.
Dana, thanks for leaving a comment. It’s so encouraging.
God wants to do great things through you.
You’re welcome. Thank you for your kind words. I’ll hold them dear. 🙂
Well I realize this is an older post, but it is my first time coming across it .. and all I can say is: “WOW!!!” Actually I can say a little more, in fact the next words out of my mouth would be “stop reading my mind!”
This so perfectly described exactly where I find myself. And it has not been a thing that I woke up with this morning, it has been growing over time, several years in fact. I will not go on and describe it beyond that because I could probably write a whole book about it. I just wanted to connect and let you know that it so resonated with me.
The entire post is so full of truth to glean, but the two things which grabbed me the most in this first time through were: “I wanted to go because of the experience; I wanted to stay because of the safety. For a moment I was stuck.” and the curtain analogy.
I have often described it as I know where I am and its ok, I know where God wants to take me and its great, but I also know the journey from here to there and it is treacherous and difficult and hard and frightening. I have not yet hit the place where I can commit to taking that first step.
And the curtain analogy so fits. I once stayed in a beach house our family rented. On the main floor were these giant picture windows that looked out over an uninterrupted view of the beach out to the ocean. When we first arrived the curtains were drawn and we marveled at the lovely home and its decorations/furnishings/amenities. If we had remained in that state it would have been good, we liked it there and liked all we could enjoy there.
But then someone drew the cord opening the curtains onto this majestic view just as the sun was setting deep into the Pacific Ocean!! WOW! What a marvelous view.
The curtains protected us from the unknown, it protected us from the potentially harmful world on the other side. Yet when someone took that step, took the risk, and pulled the cord we had pleasure that could never be adequately described.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” I Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)
Hey Larry, what a great and thoughtful response. It’s cool to see a year-old post make an impact still.
It causes me to think about everything I’ve gone through in the past year. This post was from a pivotal moment in my life, and my willingness to “take the leap” was instrumental in the personal and spiritual, and even professional, growth I’ve had in just the year since.
It’s a struggle — wanting to stay for the safety and comfort, and wanting to go for the growth and experience. I’ve learned that I was way more risk averse than I thought. I’m learning to be more OK with the unknown, and the painful things behind the curtain.
I hope that you can take your own leap. I’m continuing to do so. I’ve made the leap into more consistent exercise, into near-daily writing, deeper openness in counseling, into a whole new leadership process at my church that changes my responsibilities, and am thinking through the early ideas of how to create a profound and impactful website that would give people practical ways to grow spiritually and be more intentional in their lives, and how to do it in a way that’s so excellent and so impactful that people would be willing to pay a small subscription for access to the materials.
Since taking the leap I wrote about here, I’ve been in a more engaged and creative space than I have been in probably 5-8 years!