As Nik Wallenda stepped onto a cable only three pennies wide, I hoped he wouldn't let the word falls in Niagara Falls cross his mind. But as he narrated his seemingly effortless walk across the fast-churning waters, he said he wasn't focusing on the dangers or the potential risks. He literally "soaked in" the majesty of the incredible view and said, "I am so blessed to be in the position I am—to be the first person in the world to be right here." Nik Wallenda, 33, focused on the other side and enjoyed the view along the way—despite the all-too-apparent dangers.
As my husband and I watched the amazing feat on June 15, 2012—from the safety of our living room couch—I think my heart was racing faster than Wallenda's. I started seeing the perils he faced in his "walk" as a picture of the challenges my husband and I had been facing for well over a year: Huge financial challenges for us. Escalating chronic-pain challenges for me. Then, recent emotionally draining challenges from a business deal of mine gone wrong. My on-edge emotions were mixing together with my mind's endlessly looping instant replay of the other party's hostile verbal attacks. What a tangled mess!
Focus on the other side? Enjoy the view along the way? Could I do that?
What calmness Wallenda demonstrated during the almost-half-hour, unprecedented walk over the 1,800-foot abyss! Because he was miked to allow him to narrate the experience and respond to reporters, the whole watching world heard Wallenda's spontaneous words of praise throughout: "Praise Father God. Praise Jesus."
My heart warmed to his model of praising God in the midst of the intense body-pounding mist. Could I praise God in the relentless pain? Could I praise the Lord when my adversaries were calling me names and accusing me of things I never did—all while I was trying to keep my mouth shut and maintain the high road?
Hmm. Sounds a lot like what my Savior endured. Is the servant above her Master?
Where was Jesus' focus? "Because of the joy awaiting him [on the other side] he endured the cross [the Cross!] …. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up" (Hebrews 12:2-3, brackets and emphasis mine).
Could I endure—with joy? Could I praise him in the midst of pain and emotional attacks?
It wasn't easy, but yes.
"My entire life has prepared me to walk across Niagara Falls," Wallenda told ABC reporter Bill Weir before beginning the walk. Born into the seven-generation Flying Wallendas, Nik has been walking high wires from the age of two.
When he was six, while his family was performing in Buffalo, New York, they took time off to visit Niagara Falls. At the sight of this magnificent spectacle of God's creation, the first thing that crossed young Nik's mind was that he wanted to walk across those Falls someday. That passion grew till he convinced two governments to change their laws so he could make the walk.
I, on the other hand, at the age of six—or any age—wasn't thinking, I sure hope I can face multiple demoralizing blows at once when I get older.
But I have long prayed that God would use me wherever and in whatever way he sees fit. So who am I to decide this "place" we've been in is too tough, that he can't use even these circumstances to bring glory to himself? In Wallenda terms, hasn't he helped me walk other high-wire challenges time and time again? Were these preparations for the current faith challenge?
On purpose, as part of Wallenda's vigorous training regimen, he endured being doused with water from fire hoses and blasted by high winds created by huge wind machines—probably not fun but essential to his endurance in Niagara's extreme conditions.
Could I view my not-so-fun challenges as "being in training" for whatever else the Lord may be preparing me for—either in my own life or in encouraging others in dire circumstances?
More importantly, could I forgive, as Jesus did, those who railed so unjustly? How could I do less?
The televised coverage of Wallenda's walk began with his "grooming" the special elk-skin shoes his mother made. And I couldn't help but think of the final piece of spiritual armor Paul lists in Ephesians 6: "shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared."
Was I equipped for the challenge? Well-fitting shoes—custom-made by my Father for disseminating his gospel of peace—provided a sure footing, I realized. Readiness to endure, to give a soft answer. And peace of heart and mind.
Bill Weir asked how Wallenda could be so calm facing his death-defying feat. "I have the righteousness of God in Christ," he replied. "And that's all it takes" (See Philippians 3:9).
Could I trust my Father and the righteousness I have in him for his custom-made peace? My husband and I had been praying throughout this siege and enlisted others to pray. And a measure of peace came. But now I was beginning to realize even more all my resources in Christ.
As I go to sleep at night, with new understanding, I've been quoting and claiming a verse I've known almost all my life: "The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts [emotions] and your minds [and their instant replay functions] in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7, NIV, brackets and emphases mine).
One of the most touching elements of the telecast of Wallenda's trek, to me, was the constant communication between Nik Wallenda and his dad (and coach), who monitored everything from the vantage point of the network's production trailer. Viewers could hear his dad's calm, reassuring, encouraging words in Nik's earpiece, such as, "You're doing great" and " Keep a steady pace," and his asking Nik how he was doing throughout the walk.
Nik said the most difficult part of the journey was when he reached the totally drenched section of the cable—over the most dangerous part of the Falls. "That mist was thick, and it was hard to see … hard to focus," he said. "There was so much moving around me."
I could relate. Sometimes I've been struggling with reacting in a godly manner. Though my husband supported me with prayer and wise counsel, I felt so alone on my own high wire, like the TV images of Nik Wallenda so tiny against the Niagara Falls backdrop.
Could I hear my Father's voice in his production trailer in all this mess? Sometimes.
Sometimes I heard him during my personal time with him as he "personalized" the portion of his Word I was reading that day. Sometimes a friend passed along just the right word of encouragement, even cyberprayers for me. Fortunately, the more closely I'm listening, the better I'm hearing him—in my "earpeace."
Focus: The Other Side
Nearing the end of his walk, Nik Wallenda admitted he was drained, and his arms were getting numb from carrying his 40-pound balancing pole. When reporter Hannah Storm asked what would carry him to the other side, Wallenda said, "Pure endurance."
Then he added that the cheers of the thousands of people on the other side would help him make it. When he was in the middle of his walk, the roar of the mammoth Falls drowned out the cheers of the crowds on both the American and Canadian sides. But as he continued his walk he started to hear them again.
As my challenges have mounted, I've recognized the roar of the Enemy, trying to drown out the calm assurances of my Father. My husband and I are still in the middle of our "draining" challenges, some of which will linger long after the current business-deal fiasco. And sometimes we can't hear our cheerleading friends. But Wallenda's comment brought to mind a truth and a command from Hebrews 12:1-2: "Since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses [both here and those who have gone before us into heaven] … let us strip off every weight that slows us down …. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith" (brackets mine).
When Wallenda reached the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, a waiting border-crossing agent asked the usual question: "What is the purpose of your visit?"
With a huge grin, Wallenda replied, "To inspire people around the world." His message of "Never give up," rang true because he endured. "Anybody [who's] dealing with any battle," he said, "focus on that other side."
Can I? Yes!
We continue enduring through our financial challenges. At one point my husband was working two jobs, I've been putting in extra hours, we're economizing everywhere we can, and we're praising God for his provision in other unexpected ways.
I continue enduring through the pain, partnering with medical professionals for whatever relief they can offer, and trusting God's grace to help me bear what he chooses not to take away.
And as the business debacle seems to be nearing a conclusion, I'm praying for our adversaries and asking God to somehow redeem this mess and help me glorify him in the process.
No matter how tough the crossing, if God is sovereign—and he is—I'm realizing that I'm so blessed to be the one he called to be right here, right now, enduring in his strength, focused on the other side.
Joyce K. Ellis is the author of numerous books and magazine articles. www.joycekellis.com.