It was a long way down and the wind was gusting, the tension in my upper arms to reach out and hang onto the rope was painful. For someone who has a fear of heights, this was not a situation that I would describe as 'comfortable' in any way shape or form.
The 'situation' was Go Ape at Whinlatter in the Lakes and something I'd signed up to as the responsible adult for Biff. As an aside, it should be said that I did try and overcome my fear of heights by jumping out of an aeroplane - twice - but to no avail. Bizarrely, 400ft off the ground sitting in a plane looks a whole lot more tricky than 4000ft up in the air about to jump out of said plane and banking on a big sheet of nylon emerging from a bag strapped to my back to float me down to earth! It's strange the tricks that your mind can play on you when you're sat in the door of a Cessna at almost a mile above earth with the wind making your cheeks wobble...but feeling like an invincible James Bond exiting the plane followed by eleven minutes of sheer exhilaration as I'm sat in what feels like a suspended baby bouncer viewing Berwick to the north and Blyth to the south, gently pulling on the strings to get me back to the airfield.
Back on earth (and to the story in hand)...I still have a fear of heights. It is this fear that has made me a somewhat reluctant participant in this church family activity. The health and safety introductions were what you'd expect, explaining equipment including harnesses and carabinas. We were reminded - more than once - that the carabinas were 'our friend' but only if we used them correctly! So the mantra of the day was 'always be clipped on'. I recited it (with an increasingly dry mouth as I took to the first ladder that would take me onto the high ropes course. This would be my home for the next two hours. It would be a journey where I'd let go with the freedom of the zipwire and the contrast of holding on for dear life elsewhere.
Without question, it was the point at the top of this article where the acuteness of my fear was most felt. Emerging from the safety of the trees that had provided coverage from the elements, all of a sudden I had to negotiate a barrel crossing that involved looking down as you crossed, made worse by the fact that the barrel was getting blown about as I traversed. Having made that, ahead was a cargo net. This time for the first time, there were no bridges to walk over or even barrels to pass through, the only way to get to the next station was negotiating this rope puzzle. Going back was not an option as I was in the middle of a group of 8. Down below, Mrs my-job-is-to-film-the-fun Friend said 'smile'...I grimaced. Ahead of me an exuberant 15 year old girl flipped her titian hair towards me and, grinning like a Cheshire cat called back 'that one's hard Dad, really hard, but you'll be fine'. Why did I teach her to be so honest!! It was time (as Knoxie from Aussie would say) to 'zip up my man suit' and get on with it. So I attacked it with the relish of 'the sooner I get over this the better' but found by halfway that the sheer instinct of hanging on was sapping the little reserves of energy I had left from the last 90 minutes on the course. At one point, the heart is shouting 'just let go' while the head was screaming 'whatever you do hang on'. I did manage to cross through sheer determination and a disproportionate disregard for the very mechanism that was there to save me - the carabina. For that carabina - when used correctly - was, is and forever will be the ultimate failsafe when weary bodies simply cannot hang on any longer.
What a gift of an analogy for those of us wearied and overwhelmed in life. How many of us I wonder, when the going gets tough, the wind is against us, the options are limited and the path in front of us is treacherous, choose to rely on our own strength to get from A to B exhausting ourselves in the process and despairing of ever, ever getting to safety....when all the time a harness not three inches from our chest is clipped to the lifeline and at any point can take the strain. And yes, there is an innate mechanism in all of us that means we will not let go and we will fight the pain barrier for all its worth but...when we have a living relationship with our all encompassing God...there are times when we simply need to let go of our natural inclinations to battle on in life under our own steam and trust in His supernatural protection and dare I say it, fall into His embrace or, better put in Deuteronomy 33: 27 'The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you'. But it's not easy. As I write this I find myself saying 'doctor, heal yourself' because a mirror to my face tells me that I do way too much hanging on and not nearly enough letting go.
Maybe that's the season you're in right now? My perspective on autumn has already been documented here - gloomy, cold, dying off - but perspective is everything and, as a wise person told me recently autumn is also the time to sow seeds. Those seeds may not emerge for a while but the intention is already happening when they hit the soil. For me perhaps it is sowing a seed of awareness to God's safety line all the time and not when my arms are slipping from the net. Your context will be different but all our harnesses are clipped to God who is our Rock and our Refuge.
This week, ask God by the power of His Spirit to bring to mind people who just need to know the truth of this. Don't be surprised if God nudges you with a name which you least expect, we may only see the surface but God knows the heart and the head. Many people are struggling right now and expressing that is hard for them. And if you're in need of prayer, please ask, we have intercessors and prayer warriors in the life of our church who want to bring your name before our Father God. So, whether the cargo rope ahead says Adventure or Anguish, let's be clipped onto the Ultimate Safety Harness. God's got us, He really has.