July 19, 2023 at 9:10 a.m.
Paddling past our fears
Can you let go of the reins, and trust that God will take you across the rough waters and back to solid ground?
Mary DeTurris Poust
(Courtesy photo of CINDY SCHULTZ)
When was the last time you let fear keep you from doing something you really wanted or needed to do? Maybe it was a lifetime ago, something in the distant past that still haunts you. Maybe it was more recent, or perhaps it’s still looming before you right now. It’s amazing how we can let our minds keep us frozen in one place when we so want to be in another.
Throughout Scripture, we are told over and over to “be not afraid,” but “afraid” comes so naturally to most of us. We move through the world holding tight to what we know, trying to avoid change, and tiptoeing around anything that might push us out of our comfort zone and into the unknown.
Then again, many of us tackle incredible challenges with grace and courage over the course of our lives without ever pausing to recognize how brave and bold we were when push came to shove. Whether it’s a serious illness or the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or the struggle of addiction, we are often forced to face things we’d rather not have to face.
Hanging on my office bulletin board is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I can’t say I live up to that motto daily, but I often try, even when that little voice in my head suggests I take the easier path, whether it’s something monumental (like leaving a job) or something exciting but less significant (like learning a new skill).
Case in point: I recently had the opportunity to try a stand-up paddle board yoga class. Having never set foot on a paddle board, I came up with a list of reasons against this seemingly fun outing: I’m too old. I’ve got too much work. My family will be in town. On and on the list went. But the morning of the class, I had to admit to myself that the only reason for not going was plain and simple: fear. And while skipping a lakeside class is certainly not a big deal, to me it represented a willingness on my part to be frozen in place by nothing more than my mind telling the rest of me what I can and can’t do.
So off I went to grab my life vest and backup eyeglasses (fully assuming I’d be falling head first into Thompson’s Lake). I headed to Thatcher State Park with a little knot in my stomach but also with a fiery energy that comes from doing something I knew I was afraid to try but went forward with anyway.
There was a moment, when my paddle board and I were stuck in a patch of lily pads, that I felt panic rising and started to doubt my decision. And then there was the instant when I accidentally sent my anchor sinking back to the bottom of the lake at the precise moment I was supposed to be paddling toward shore. As I came back to my breath and said a little prayer for trust and calm, I found I could do things I had not previously imagined, all while balancing on a board rocking on the rough surface of a lake.
When I got back on land, it all felt like a metaphor for life: How often do we shy away from the figurative choppy waters ahead of us and cling to the solidity of an old mindset or comfortable habit? When do we throw down an anchor in the least likely place hoping we can stay put and not face what must be faced? Where are the twisted vines of our own making that hold us down? Are we willing to loosen our grip and let God release us from the stranglehold of our sins and sufferings?
That favorite-but-challenging line from the Gospel of Matthew says: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” What version of tomorrow keeps you up at night or freezes you in your place? Can you let go of the reins, and trust that God will take you across the rough waters and back to solid ground?
Mary DeTurris Poust is a writer, retreat leader and spiritual director living in Delmar. Visit her website at www.NotStrictlySpiritual.com.