Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fear of Falling

Rev. Kym Lucas
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

My family gave me a new bicycle for Mother’s Day. It is beautiful bike, and it came with a custom “bike fitting” session at the bike shop. It also came with a set of fancy bike pedals, the kind that require special shoes that clip into them. While I was thrilled to have such a great gift, I was also very nervous about riding my new bike. This bike is more technical than any bike I’ve ever ridden, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out my new pedals. As a result, I spent weeks riding my new bike in a trainer…. in the house….clipping in and clipping out. 

Finally, I worked up enough courage to take my bike outside and ride. I put on all of my fancy cycling gear and climbed on my bike. I got one foot clipped in…. and immediately fell over. My youngest child (who had been eagerly awaiting my first outside ride) rushed to my side. His five year-old eyes were full of concern. “Mommy are you okay? Are you bleeding?” He held my bike while I detached myself and examined my injuries: one bruised shoulder, two scrapes on my elbow and knee, one severely smashed ego.

“Not bleeding,” I said, showing him my external wounds. “But I don’t know if I can get the hang of this,” I muttered, mostly to myself. My son’s look of concern vanished and he said with a smile, “It’s okay if you fall down, Mommy. I fall down a lot when I try new things. You just need practice.” With that, he handed me my bike, returned to the steps, and waited expectantly for me to get back on. I realized that for my child, falling down is the risk of learning a new skill. And while sometimes painful (we have a large stock of band aids on hand at all times), the fear of falling never keeps him from seeing what is possible.

Looking at his face filled with excitement, I could do nothing but get back on my bike and go for a ride. As I rode along and my death grip loosened on my handlebars, I realized that my child had taught me a lesson about leadership and ministry. In my mind, grown-ups aren’t supposed to fall. Falling looks like incompetence; falling looks like failure. But if Jesus was serious (and I’m fairly sure he was), faithfulness is not about looking accomplished. Faithfulness is about humbling one’s self to the Spirit’s call. Faithfulness is about maintaining a child’s openness to possibility, an openness that keeps us undaunted by the risk of falling. 

Since my inaugural ride, I have been considering how many things I’ve been unwilling to try in my ministry because I was afraid of falling: the new worship that could flop, the new outreach that no one seems interested in doing, and countless others. And if I am afraid of falling, surely others are afraid as well. The needs of the church and the world are changing every day. In order to meet those needs, I think the church will have to be willing to try new things, things we’re not good at, things that make us feel nervous, things that might not work on the first try. We might even have to humble ourselves enough to risk falling down and, do the even more difficult tasks of brushing ourselves off and trying again. This is my new endeavor: to change and become like a child, humble and open to the possibilities God wants to reveal. And I will hold on to my son’s words of wisdom. “It’s okay to fall down when you try new things. You just need practice.”

Kym Lucas is the rector at St. Margaret's in Washington, DC. Share your thoughts and comments on Facebook.