When I was three years old, my parents signed me up for gymnastics classes. Every Tuesday, my mom would drop me off at Tumble Kids, where my gymnastics instructor would show me how to do cartwheels, splits and the rope climb. I would show up in my turquoise shorts leotard and my high socks (because I was just that awesome) ready to conquer the world, or at least the 5-part obstacle course. But there was one part of the studio that I made sure to steer clear of: the foam pit.
Now, you have to understand, this foam pit was unlike any other that I have since seen at a gymnastics studio. Instead of the usual 2-3 foot high jump, this one had you suspended 8 feet in the air – high enough to be terrifying, but low enough to not actually be life-threatening… or so they claimed.
Unlike most of my peers, I was not fooled by the pool of squishy, cushioned cubes that was sure to catch my fall: that pit had “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” written all over it. There were just too many things that could go wrong. What if the pool was too shallow? What if I hit my head on something? Padding or no padding, there was no way my instructor was going to convince me that taking that leap was a good idea. Jumping was out of the question. Maybe I was being a wimp, but I like to tell myself that I was being smart.
Over time, my fears have changed… well, sort of.
When I think about the whole scope of fears that I have experienced from infancy to the present, I notice a common thread: I fear things that have the potential to hurt me or hurt the people that I love. Physical and emotional comfort are very important to me – most people would likely say the same thing about themselves. Whether you are afraid of spiders, injuries, or unhappiness, you are ultimately concerned that you or somebody close to you will experience some sort of discomfort. Pain and fear go hand-in-hand; I have no reason to fear something that will surely bring joy and pleasure, but anything that could cause harm must be handled with the utmost caution.
Thinking about this topic, I began considering the many aspects of my life that can be shaded by fear. Decisions, relationships, career, even leisure time. These are all areas that can be greatly impacted by the presence of fear. If I am afraid of letting down my friends by not showing up to an event, I might end up inconveniencing or disappointing somebody else in my effort to attend. When I fear being wrong about something, I instantly become less teachable and more prone to pride and stubbornness. In these cases, fear places me at the mercy of other people’s opinions, which – inconveniently enough – are constantly changing. There’s just no winning when the good grace of every person in your life is your measure of success.
Some times fear can serve as a motivator, but more often than not, it is more of a hindrance than anything else. The only fear that is truly good is fear of God, which leads to a genuine desire for His will to be done in your life. When Jeremiah the prophet says “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” after God proclaims His plan for him to be a prophet to the nations, the Lord responds to Jeremiah’s fear of inadequacy with “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8). Fear of God is rightly placed fear; all at once, He has complete power to either destroy or deliver us. What other thing or person in your life can you say this about? In the end, even when fear of God leads us to encounter trials – which it surely will at some point – this fear is the only fear worth living in because it is of the God who has the ultimate authority to dictate and guide our lives.
Going back to my dreadful foam pit debacle – several years later, I visited the studio where I had previously taken gymnastics classes. To my surprise, I was remarkably underwhelmed when I saw the foam pit. What once looked like a death trap had suddenly become something much less daunting. It was a pit of foam cubes with a diving board hanging over it – clearly harmless.
Turns out, there wasn’t much to fear after all.