One of my favorite parts of the Wilderness Trek trips we took in high school was the first day, when we went rappelling down a cliff somewhere. The guides took their time getting all the ropes fastened securely to at least two trees (you know, just in case we managed to pull one out of the ground), then wrapped through the harnesses and buckles secured to their bodies.
When my turn came, I also donned a harness outfitted with hooks and buckles and locks. Another rope snaked through those loops and controlled my descent, as the only movement required to stop my fall was to pull the slack around my waist, locking the rope in the carabiner. If I wanted to leap off the cliff face and slide down quickly, I could loosen my grip and go. If I wanted to inch my way down, carefully sliding my feet over every bump, all I had to do was grab that rope tightly and release it as minimally as I wanted.
But it didn’t all rely on me. Those guides were always at the top, roped into the system that was sustaining me. And while I controlled the ropes that were fixed at the top and dangled freely at the bottom, they controlled the ropes that attached directly to my harness and ran upwards, leaving the extra slack behind the guides. At any sign of trouble, they could also whip the rope around their waists, engaging the lock on their end, and I would freeze. No matter what happened with my hands at that point - even if I let go of the rope completely, I would stay put. Maybe spinning in the wind, struggled for a foothold or upside down, but held nonetheless.
They could stop my fall when I couldn’t.
We often think of our walk with God as an actual walk down a road, where we can hold His hand as we progress. However, this breaks down for me when it comes to difficulty, because either I’m holding His hand and can’t fall, or I let go and wipe out. Either way, struggle indicates a problem because 1) if I’m holding His hand like I thought I was, I shouldn’t have fallen in the first place or 2) I have to get back to His hand because I obviously lost it, though I’m not sure how or where.
I prefer the rappelling image. Maybe our whole life is spent in an up and down attempt at a climb. Jesus and all His glory is at the top. Brokenness is at the bottom. For every foot of altitude we advance, it’s likely we could slip down by two. But when we lock into Jesus as our guide, we are roped in just as we used to be on Trek. We can control some of our movements. We have choices about where to put our feet, how quickly to rise or fall, how risky our path will be and how tightly we will hold to our own control.
But when It comes down to it, we can’t fall where He can’t catch us. He knows the signs of real trouble that we can’t handle and He can grab the line in plenty of time to snatch us from it. We might be upside down, panicking, and unsure what to do next to find the right path, but He has us in His grip, just as always.
Thinking about life in this way makes risks scary and exhilarating, because rather than seeing potential falls as moments in which I might lose my grip on His hand, I see them as moments when I might witness anew just how intent He is on holding on to me.