The ladder wobbled much more than I would have liked as I carefully climbed each rung. Higher and higher I went, but I knew better than to look down. I was already nervous and regretting my agreement to participate in this endeavor. “This was a bad idea”… I kept thinking over and over the higher I got.
I used only one arm to help me climb—the other was clutching several tarps. Two hammers hung precariously from my overall straps and threatened to fall at the slightest bump. Once I reached the two-story roof, I felt worse, not better. It was so much steeper than I had imagined when I volunteered to help my husband. “How can I NOT fall off this roof?” I wondered. As though to prove the validity of my fear, the tarps would not rest on the shingles—they just wanted to slide off. I managed to prop them in front of the ladder, but one slipped and fell alllllll the way down to the grass below. Not a good start.
I did not want to get onto that roof; I was more terrified than I’ve been in a long time. But I knew that if I backed out now, it would really mess things up for my husband. Drawing a breath, I slowly crawled from the ladder onto the shingles. I was so afraid of slipping off! So I lay there, on the slant of the roof, too afraid to do much of anything. I noticed a vent sticking out a little higher up, so I belly-crawled up several feet and grabbed hold of it. It gave me a slight sense of security at a time when I really needed it! From there, I kept crawling higher until I reached the peak. I straddled that peak as though my life depended on it! In some ways it did!
At least at the peak I could find some balance, instead of having gravity completely pull in one direction. But my respite was short-lived as my husband called me back to the ladder to retrieve supplies he was sending up. I couldn’t do it. I was so afraid. But then…”I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” came to mind. I mentally clutched that verse as I inched back down the slope to help my husband.
I survived to tell this tale, and my husband did as well. However, as I worked to nail tarps to the roof to prevent further leakage, I never felt comfortable or safe. The fear remained, and I had to battle it and push through it. For three and a half hours I was on that two story roof, in the hot sun, working. Yet, when I was able to adjust my focus from fear to purpose, I began to see some parallels between being up on that roof and facing a fearful season in life.
Maybe you are facing big fears right now. Perhaps they are life and death (which mine were!), or perhaps they are financial, relational, or something else. Maybe you got yourself into this situation, or maybe you were thrust into it. (I have a friend who started chemo today—she certainly did not volunteer for a cancer diagnosis!) At some point or another we are each afraid of something we are going through. But there are some techniques we can all make use of when in the midst of the fears.
- Make note of your posture. When I first got onto the roof, I was barely able to move and was mostly laying down to prevent myself from falling off. My heart posture very literally mimicked my physical posture. I prayed, “I can’t do this! Save me!”—not wanting to face what was before me.
Gradually, as I became more accustomed to moving around on the roof, my physical and heart postures changed. It was then that the “I can do all things” verse gave me strength. I scooted around the roof, instead of crawled, and was able to get some work done. After a while longer, as I tentatively tested my limits on the roof, I was able to walk around a little and be a little more bold because I understood what the grips of my shoes were capable of withstanding. It was during these times that my heart posture leaned more towards gratitude and recognizing God’s faithfulness. “Thank you for the cloud covering the sun to give us a moment of shade” or “Thank you, Lord, that it is not raining” were the prayers of my heart.
Sometimes, when having to approach the edge of the roof again in order to hammer in nails, my posture shifted back to “save me” or “I can do all things”. And that’s okay! As we navigate our fearful situations, or seasons of fear, sometimes we revert back to our previous responses. What we could handle a moment ago suddenly becomes scary again, and we need to reposition ourselves and our hearts.
What we DON’T want to do is to stay in that helpless state forever. So, if you are experiencing fear right now, what is your heart position? Are you desperately asking God to save you, are you trying to find boldness and strength from His Word, or are you working and worshipping in the midst of the fear?
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” –Psalm 73:26
- Choose your partner/company/teammates wisely. I would not have gotten up on that roof with just anyone. In fact, my husband is probably the only person I would have chosen to be with up there. I know that he has my best-interests in mind, and I know that he loves me enough to do whatever he can for me. In fact, if I had decided that I could not get over my fear enough to work, he probably would have attempted to do all the work himself just to spare me.
We don’t always get to choose who we are stuck on a roof with. However, we usually get to choose who we ask to pray for us, or who we ask for help in difficult seasons. Are you surrounding yourself with people who are encouraging and lifting you up? Or have you settled for friends who stir up your fears even more?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” –Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
- Clothe yourself properly. The literal clothes I chose for this job were appropriate: denim overalls, t-shirt, wide-brimmed hat, sneakers, and sunscreen. I know, sunscreen isn’t clothing, but it was still protective and relevant. But there are also spiritual clothes that we should choose when facing fears. God knew long ago what we would face, and what we would need to face it. He embedded it into the Scriptures, but we need to remember what He told us!
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” –Colossians 3:12
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” –Ephesians 6:14-15
“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” –Isaiah 61:3
Some things that we should spiritually clothe ourselves with, like compassion and kindness, are there to help us navigate our fears in a way that is graceful to others. Other things, like the belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness, are meant to protect us. Still finally, items like a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, are intended to keep our hearts in tune with God’s overwhelming presence in our situation, instead of our instinctive feelings about it.
What are you clothing yourself with? Is it helping you in this season, or leaving you exposed to things that are detrimental to God’s purpose in your life?
- Don’t be worried. Be concerned. When Steve finally joined me on the roof this morning, he could see how uncomfortable I was. I told him that I was afraid of slipping off. His response was so deep and applicable: “don’t be worried about it. Just be concerned.”
That takes a moment of pondering to fully sink in. Don’t be worried; be concerned. There is a subtle, yet distinct, difference between worried and concerned. “Worried” focuses obsessively on the problem. “Concerned” just acknowledges that there is something to be aware of. I should definitely be aware that I could fall off the roof if I am foolish, but I should not be worried that it will just sporadically happen for no reason. Concern leads me to cautious action, whereas worry leads me to paralyzing fear.
Are you caught in a cycle of worry instead of concern? Has the problem or fear you’ve recognized wormed its way into your heart? Don’t ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist! But treat it as a concern, not a worry. Something to be aware of and work on, not obsess about.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” –Philippians 4:6
- When it’s time to get off the roof, get off the roof! During the three and a half hours we worked on the roof, Steve went down to the ground a couple of times for more supplies. I chose to stay up on the roof. I knew, if I went down to the ground, I would have a very difficult time coming back up. I made the best of my situation, even though I was in a place of fear.
However, eventually the job was done. Hallelujah! It was time to leave. Although I wanted so badly to be on the ground, I did not want to face that ladder. Crawling or scooting to the edge of the roof, and getting onto a ladder, seemed equally as terrifying as the previous 3.5 hours I’d spent working. I managed to do it, but I was genuinely scared!
Similarly, I’ve faced seasons of life where I’m unconsciously afraid to move on. Even though I want out of my current season, transitioning to something new requires vulnerability and more steps of faith than I feel ready to take.
And yet, why should we remain in a season of fear, just because we fear the unknown of the next season? If we have made it so far, and God has been faithful so far, why should we resist stepping out of one season and into the next?
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence, He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” –Psalm 91:3-6
One final closing thought: if Steve had shown me a photo of the roof we were going to be tarping…I don’t think I would have volunteered to help him. If I had truly known what the situation looked like, I might have been too afraid to move forward at all.
As much as I want to know the future plans God has for me, sometimes I have to thank Him for withholding those plans. I am not a naturally brave person. Any strength I have, truly comes from Him. I really want to know the plans He has for me, but I also know that I might not be brave enough to face those future plans right now. If I truly knew where my obedience was taking me, I might not actually be obedient. If I was given all the glimpses about my future that I want, I might be paralyzed with fear before those futures even became reality! Instead, I have to trust that He knows what I can handle, and that His timing in revealing everything is perfect.
I have had a lot of opportunities to be afraid this year. Which means I have also had a lot of opportunities to lean on God’s strength instead of my own. Are you struggling with fear in this season? What practical steps can you take in order to learn and thrive, instead of give into anxiety? Find someone who can encourage you and walk alongside you. Find someone who you don’t mind being stuck on a roof with, even if it’s Jesus!