On Belay

What a climbing wall taught me about my immovable God
On Belay
Image: NEJRON PHOTO / SHUTTERSTOCK

As I looked down, I had one thought: If this thing breaks, it’s gonna hurt. I was strapped in a harness connected to a young man standing on the ground below. His words were encouraging. “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t forget to keep looking ahead for your next foothold.”

But I wasn’t looking ahead. I was looking down, at the guy holding the ropes, at the little bitty piece of metal through which they passed. He looked younger than my son. Was he even old enough to shave? If I weighed more than he did (which was likely), would gravity suddenly kick in and yank him off the ground at the same rate that I plummeted toward it? And that’s assuming the metal carabiner binding the ropes didn’t bust apart. Oh, this wasn’t good—it wasn’t good at all.

Actually, I wasn’t that far off the ground. I was attempting a climbing wall at a fun park, surrounded by the team I worked with at church. They were encouraging me as well. “Keep going, Sherry! You’ve got this!”

It didn’t feel like I had anything. I was half holding, half dangling, with the straps awkwardly placed between my legs, my baby arms growing weaker by the minute.

The young man below repeated his earlier instructions: “Don’t worry about the harness or the ropes or me. Keep your eyes up, finding where you will place your hands and feet next. On belay, remember?”

I did remember. He had explained how the harness worked, how it was designed to handle a 300-pound person, how I was held securely even if I slipped or let go of the wall. The words on belay were his signal that I was anchored securely, not just to my harness or to him but to something secure, something immoveable. While the ropes passed through his hands to help me navigate my upward movement (or prevent my rapid descent), they were ultimately attached to a concrete structure that couldn’t be moved. Unfortunately, my baby arms and trembling legs weren’t cooperating. The footholds felt too small, too far apart, and I had to let go of one to grab hold of the next. I felt helpless and vulnerable, overwhelmed.

I have felt this way often in life, even at times when my feet were planted securely on terra firma. As I anticipated my first big job, my first child, leaving one place to move to another, or decisions that felt too big to make. A common thread ran through them: I’m unsure. This feels different. I’m not sure what to do next. This is scary.

As I grasped and clung and tried to calm my nerves on the climbing wall, there was someone on the ground who wasn’t nervous at all. He had done this many times before. He knew I was secure and in no real danger of falling. He also knew he could hoist me all the way to the top, without my help if necessary; and if my weeny arms and wobbly legs truly did give out, he could gently lower me to the ground. He was a non-anxious presence.

You know where I’m going with this. But before you start down the path of I-know-I-should-just-pray-more, stop. We all worry. Some of us are just better at it than others because we’ve had more practice. I’m one of those. I’ve worried and tried to convince myself to stop. I’ve scolded and pointed the finger of blame at my anxious heart. I’ve pretended I wasn’t worried, all the while knowing I was. But I’m done with the just-stop-it self-shaming, and now I’m taking some action.

Here’s what I’m doing instead.

I’m Inviting God into My Worry

Instead of pretending I don’t worry (and who am I fooling anyway?), I’m picturing God sitting with me, coffee cup in hand, as I get honest with myself and with him. I worry. He knows. He loves me anyway. Instead of telling myself things like I know God has this under control, I tell him what I really feel: God, I can’t feel you or see you right now. It’s scary. Please help.

I’m Admitting I’m Not in Control

Part of me still thinks my life would go best if I could control all the circumstances. But I can’t. And really, thank goodness. I can’t see what’s coming. I don’t always know what’s best. Even if I could control every part of my life, the pressure would probably crush me. It’s a freeing moment for me to let go of the need to run every aspect of my life and let the shadow side of my perfectionism take a rest. I have a God who is a non-anxious presence, who can do a much better job in the driver’s seat than I ever could.

I’m Leaning into the Real Meaning of Surrender

Okay sisters, I’ll admit this is hard for me. I admit I can’t control what may come along in life, which is often the source of my worry, but I must also give up control of how that circumstance will turn out. Even though I know my life is in God’s hands, I still want what I want. I have plans and dreams, and I want God to want them too. But this is false surrender, allowing him to lead me as long as it’s where I want to go.

I don’t want to be a pretend follower. I want to truly trust him, to believe that he wants even better things for me than I want for myself, and to truly know that my way isn’t the best way.

I’m Trusting in the Truth

Even though I knew in my head that those ropes weren’t going to break, the metal clip would hold, and the young man had the training and expertise to keep me safe, I had to repeat it several times to my heart and my sweaty armpits before I began to trust in it. It is the same with my spiritual life. God assures me in his Word he won’t leave me alone. He tells me his Spirit surrounds me and goes before me, protecting me from things unseen. He assures me that his peace, while it doesn’t make sense to the world, will give me the power and self-discipline I need. He assures me I don’t have to settle for a troubled heart and I don’t have to live afraid.

As I repeat his promises over and over to myself, they become real. I say them to myself in the shower, in the car, as I’m standing in the checkout line. I remind myself of the many times I’ve experienced God’s peace in real, tangible ways. I remind myself that even during the moments I felt alone and scared, I never really was. As I commit to firmly believe and trust his promises in my head, my heart begins to follow, and I know he is truly my non-anxious, immoveable Savior that holds me securely no matter what lies ahead.

I am on belay.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Sherry Surratt

Sherry Surratt is the Director of Parenting Strategy for Orange Family Ministry. She is the former CEO of MOPS International and the author of several books, including Brave Mom, Beautiful Mess, and Just Lead. You can connect with her online at SherrySurratt.com or follow her on Twitter at @SherrySurratt.

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