Lessons from a High-Ropes Course


This is something I wrote nearly ten years ago. I’ve thought of it several times lately and decided to pull it out, dust it off, and post it here.


     One day, way back in 1986, my husband and I took our youth group to Camp Joy to do a high ropes course. We did some group-building activities on the ground, had lunch and then headed for the ropes. After learning the rules and safety precautions, we headed up to the treetops to begin our adventure. I started out on the first obstacle. Almost immediately I was overcome with fear and grabbed the nearest tree. 

I found I couldn’t let go. 

I stood hugging that tree for a while, sweat pouring from me in fear, and finally

I had to give up and go down. 


     At the same time, one of our youth,  a 12-year-old named Jon,  was beginning his turn on the course. I’m not sure how he began or when he first fell. But I do know that he seemed fearless as he completed the entire ropes course. Oh, he didn’t do it flawlessly. It seemed he was hanging by his harness almost as much as he was on the ropes. I can almost see him dangling there like a spider. He would try the obstacle, fall as often as not, then get back up and try it again. He completed the entire course in this manner.


     One day years later, as I recalled that day, the Lord began to use that experience to teach me a lesson. You see, that day in the tree I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing. I was paralyzed by my fear. I had listened to the same instructions as Jon had (indeed, I had probably listened far more carefully than he had!). I understood that if I followed the instructions I was given, I was perfectly safe. I could not fall. I knew all that in my head. 

But, I didn’t believe it. 

Not deep down where it really mattered. Logically I knew I was safe, but my fear of falling was so strong that I couldn’t hear what logic was saying. I was listening only to my fears, and I was paralyzed. 


     Jon’s story was different. You see, Jon fell. He didn’t fall on purpose, he just slipped, but he fell almost right away. And once he fell, Jon knew he was safe. He didn’t know it just in his head as I did.  He knew it with all his being. If the system of harness and straps and carabineers was not enough to save him, he would have been twenty feet below, badly injured or dead. But it was enough. He had fallen and he was okay. He knew then that he was safe, and now he was free to try every challenge the course offered.


     When I looked back years later, God showed me something.He showed me this:

I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing, but Jon fell and, therefore, was afraid of nothing. 

He could do everything. I saw myself living frequently out of that same kind of fear that I had had on the ropes. Sure, I knew that God loved me and would never leave me.  I knew that his grace was enough to cover any mistake I might make. But I didn’t live like I really knew it. I have often lived a timid life – afraid to try anything new or anything that I didn’t already know I could do well. I was afraid of many things, but failure was the biggest, especially failure in front of people. So, I rarely risked anything for God. I would cry out to God to use me for his glory, to do great things with my life, but I ended up doing very little because I was afraid to try, afraid to fail.


     On the other hand was Jon. Jon has grown up in the years since. He continued in our youth group until he completed high school. During his senior year, he allowed God to get ahold of his life. And after finishing college, he worked as a youth pastor for several years at a church we were serving, so I had the opportunity to witness his life over many years.  I have seen him live his life just as he did that day on the ropes. He has a confidence in the God who holds him. He knows that God is his safety and his security. He knows it like he knew that day that his equipment would hold him safely in the trees. With that settled, he is free to live for God – to live fully, an all-out, no-holds-barred abundant life for God.  Fear is gone. He knows that he can try anything for God, because if he slips, if he makes a mistake, or when he makes a mistake, it isn’t fatal. He falls, rather, right into the hands of God, his loving Father, who helps him climb back onto the ropes and go again. 


     Over the past several years, as God has taught me the lesson of the high ropes course, I have resolved to live differently. It wasn’t an instant change. It has been slow at times, but I am changing. I have decided that anytime I have the opportunity to do something for God I will try it. It has led me to try some new, and sometimes risky, things. At first I would sometimes feel led to stand during worship when everyone else was sitting or to kneel when no one else was, and for a change I would do it.  It wasn’t much, but it was risky for me – what would people think!  I have taught the middle school Sunday School class (every adult knows how scary that can be!). I have led singing at VBS and After-School Club and, believe me, me singing is risky! I have been on a few international mission trips. As I stepped out in faith, trusting him, he has led me to bigger things. In recent years, God has led me into prison ministry and Aaron and I into adopting a teen-age son. If I had not learned the lessons of the ropes course and been willing to try the smaller things, I would never have been able to “let go of the tree” and try either of these. Some of the things I’ve tried have been successes, but some haven’t (leading VBS music…). And I’m okay. I’ve learned that

falling isn’t fatal.

He really does catch me when I fall!


     A few years later, as a counselor at a junior high camp, I had an opportunity to try the ropes course again. I really wanted to do it all this time. It was so hard! I was crying as I climbed the last couple feet of the climbing wall and stepped over onto the first platform. But this time, I kept my focus on my equipment and the people instructing me. I kept reminding myself that they were trustworthy. I called down to ask my instructor, Sarge, if he was really watching me. I checked and double-checked my carabineers, my connection to the safety cables, and yanked on my straps. Then, knowing they were secure, I took one step at a time until I had finished the course. It was actually fun! I had moments when the fear would come back, but I would refocus my mind on the people below whom I could trust (calling out to Sarge one more time to see if he was really watching me) and on my secure connection to the safety line (touch the carabineers and yank on those straps again), and I could go on.  


     When I got to the end, I had to push off the final platform onto a zip-line that took me streaking through the woods and then safely down to the ground. It was so hard to push off that platform! Again, I had to remind myself (I actually had to say it aloud!) that Sarge was watching me and my connection to the safety equipment was secure.  

Then I did it! 

I pushed off into space. And it was one scary ride, but much more fun than I expected and I landed safe and sound and excited about my big accomplishment!


      I want to remember this lesson all of my life. I want to do anything God asks me to do. I want to face any challenge that comes my way. I have decided not to focus on my fears, but to remember that

my God is trustworthy and my connection to him is secure.


     You see, just like on the ropes course when, if I fell from the obstacle, I could only fall a couple feet because I was firmly connected to the cable, if I fall in life, I remain firmly connected to him and I can only fall into his hands. What could be safer than that? A fall isn’t fatal; it’s a fall into my Father’s hand, the Father who will gently set me back upright and onto my path. So, I tug a little on my connection to him and might even call out to him, “God, you’re watching, aren’t you?” Then, truly knowing that he is faithful, I can push off into space, confident that, as he says in Jude verse 24, He is able to keep me from falling and to present me before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.


     Is there anything keeping you from stepping out into the risky and the unknown in your life? Is it that no one has ever challenged you to dream big?  If so, I would recommend that you ask God to begin to lead you, to break your heart with the things that break his heart. Then, get moving. 


     Or is it that, like me, you are afraid you might fail?  You might look stupid?  I understand where you are. I lived much of my life there.  I want to encourage you to remember your “instructor”. Remember that, what Sarge did for me, God will do for you. He is always watching out for your interests and will keep his eye on you. You know, I never called out without finding that Sarge was right with me. He took his responsibility seriously and he understood my fears. He cared for me. In the same way, remember that God understand your fears and takes you seriously and that he is 

“able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

Double-check your connection to him. Are you abiding in him? Are you following him? Trusting him for your very life? If so, hang onto that, ask God to lead, and start living adventurously for him now. It might be a scary ride, but will likely be more fun than you expected. And you will land safe and sound in him and excited about being used for his kingdom. 

There is no telling what you and God might do!


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