This past Tuesday night, I went with my church out to Lake McKenzie near Silverton, TX. It's a respectable, but smaller, size lake with a very cool cove that has different levels of cliffs that you can jump from.
The six of us parked and hiked down the grass and dirt path that leads to the bottom. I was hobbling down carefully, trying not to irritate my slowly healing sprained ankle. My buddy Shane was the first down and into the water, which he said was freezing as he swam across the cove to the rope that helps you get up to some of the lower cliffs.
There was a couple fishing in there, and they said the deepest spot they could find was 13 feet (the water was WAY down). Shane was already up on one of the cliffs ready to jump, but the group decided it would be wise to check the depth before he jumped (even though we've done this before). I was next in the water, so I swam over to the landing area and down I went. I didn't hit bottom, but kept hitting branches attached to some immoveable tree under there, so Shane turned to his left to the clear water I found and let her fly!
All sense said for me to just stay in the water and not jump at all this time, with my ankle and all. But almost like I was on remote control, even as my mouth is saying I just need to stay in the water, I climbed the rope and jumped (make that dove...to avoid impact to my ankle). I was fine. But I still came out of the water half glad I did it, half shaking my head out how lacking I am in self-control regarding things like this.
At any rate, Josh, Orand, and Chris S. were making there way into the water (it wasn't near as cold as Shane said) and across the cove. Shane went a few more times from the lower and higher cliffs, and Josh joined him. Chris N. is still sitting on the bank with no intention of even getting in the water, let alone jumping, taking pictures.
Now Chris S. headed up the rope and over to the cliff's edge, with Orand close behind him. His intent was to go right up to the edge and jump, but instead what began was an much more significant internal battle within himself about his need for control that would last over an hour.
Pause. My friend Chris is a very cool fellow. He's an economist. Yeah, an economist. The first and only one I've ever known. He told me once that the title is a bit of a smoke screen...but I'm cool with it...I just like being friends with an economist.
We've been developing a friendship over the past few months. We've had several lunches, and he has ventured into my basement where a bunch of us go to "keep it real" and intentionally try to let Christ conform us to his image. So because of the context of our friendship, we've become friends very quickly.
Anyway, I'm pausing here because Chris and I had gone to lunch THAT DAY, and while there, he said he had something to talk to me about. Suffice it to say that he was letting me know that he ready to venture out of the comfort zone of his current controlled life, which isn't going as well as he pretends anyway, but knows that to do so would require him moving into new unknown territory...yes with God, but he knew he needed more...he needs God's community in the flesh. It was my favorite thing that happened that day.
Until that is, his standing on the cliff became a living, breathing, incarnated analogy to what we talked about at lunch. He stood on that cliff for a good 15 minutes, I guess, bewildered at himself for how hard it was to let go of the tree next to him and jump. He kept asking Orand, waiting patiently behind him, if he wanted to go first, which he didn't...but eventually did (now, Orand had to face his fear to jump, too, but he did it pretty quickly). This was Chris' first easy opt-out...he's already away from the cliff, back by the rope, but he went back over to the cliff after Orand to take another look.
I took a spot down in the water under him, dog-paddling near the direction of where he would land (not too close), as a show of support. Of course, I really wanted him to experience the breakthrough feeling of doing something in spite of your fear, reason, and logic, so I joined right in what was going on in him by speaking out loud the analogy this was to what he proclaimed at lunch. He listened, but it wasn't lost on him. He was already thinking everything I'm saying...so I went forward trying to motivate him to jump.
I told him about my first cliff jump...I sat for 4 hours looking over thinking it might look easier in a minute.
"The view WILL NOT change by waiting."
"It is a decision of the will to trust you will be okay."
"This is over in half a second as soon as you lean forward."
"The feelings you face here are the same feelings you will face when 'jumping' into your new life...so you might as well know what it feels like"
"Your first step is to resolve that you are jumping. If you are jumping, then it's just a matter of when."
We dialogued deeply about what was going on inside of him, way more than can be recorded here. But my favorite exchange began when Chris had again walked away from the cliff and was sitting next to the rope.
"I don't want to climb down, and I don't want to jump," Chris said, perfectly describing so many of us in so many things. Then he asked, "If I don't jump, what does that mean about conquering the stuff we talked about at lunch?"
"Nothing," I replied, "this is nothing but a silly cliff jump. You are going to conquer that other stuff whether you jump or not. You are free to climb down or to jump down. What do you want to do? You don't have to jump."
Now feeling unconstrained by ego, pride, machoism, or letting this cliff jump too seriously represent his capacity to trust God, you might think he'd come on down. Instead, Chris looked back over to the cliff, with that same little fire of intent in his eyes...but with this obstacle on his mind...
"If I go back over there, I will hit that same split second moment of fear that I have this last hour that has stopped me."
I merged with that thought, "...so you have no need of being surprised when you walk over there and face that moment. You only have to decide whether you want to go over there and push through it or not."
Off he went to the edge of the cliff, and perched himself in the same spot holding on to the same branch, looking down with the same holy stare. He didn't jump right away, and we had been here for at least an hour, and I had pretty much exhausted all my best material. So, really wanting to see him jump and overcome whatever was going on inside of him, I asked God, "Father, is there anything I can do to help him?"
Duh! I've been speeching to this poor guy for an hour and hadn't prayed. So I looked down at the water and prayed..."Father, be with Chris. And in the name of Jesus Christ, I command anything that hinders Chris from getting whatever it is you want for him, away."
Off he went...with a Braveheart type yell forcing it's way out of his mouth as he did.
Josh and Chris had left. Orand had climbed to the top, and would later tell Chris that he had given up on him, thinking there was no way he would go. Shane was still across the cove on the shore, patiently waiting and witnessing.
And Chris said it was the scariest thing he's ever done. Shane said that it was exciting, and that Chris made the trip! Orand wouldn't stop smiling, and encouraging Chris with the idea that even when others stop believing in you, you can do it.
I think I will just leave it at that. It was a great trip...great fellowship...and we got to see another brother, in another way, jump through his fear and find out what faith looks and feels like. It's risky, dangerous, requires letting go, giving up control, and trust. And that's what the church I attend on Tuesday nights is all about. Life-changing faith.
Way to go, Chris!
Here is one of my pictures from a place called Bluff Hole in Letona, AR. The first and primary cliff where I have learned this lesson many times (yes, it was winter, and yes it was too cold to jump).