A card-carrying acrophobic, I am desperately afraid of heights.
I discovered this about myself when I was nine. My family was spending a few days at my grandparents’ farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Right next to the house was a windmill which, decades before, had been used to draw water from the well directly beneath it. One afternoon, I foolishly decided to climb the windmill, using the narrow steel ladder welded to the side of the tower.
Scampering toward the top, I remember feeling the exhilaration of conquering this structure. But just as I was about to reach the pinnacle, I was suddenly and unexplainably gripped with fear. Without exaggeration, I felt abject terror as I had never felt it before. My fingers were wrapped so tightly around the rungs of the ladder, I could not move. My knuckles were white. My throat was powder-dry, and I could not breathe or swallow. I stood there for several minutes on the narrow steel rung of the ladder, immobilized.
As soon as I could catch my breath, I began screaming for my older brother, Sam, to save me. Gratefully, even though he was also a member of the acrophobia’s society, he set his own fear aside to save his little brother from peril . . . even death.
Thirty-five years later, I was building a low-income house with my Sunday school class. Since I’m fairly adept at driving nails, I had volunteered to climb up to the top of the framed first-floor walls to secure them. I did this without thinking.
When I had completed one section, I had to walk the length of the house on top of the outside wall to finish the job. I stood to walk across the three-and-a-half-inch wide “walkway.” My legs froze, and I could feel the pounding of my heart from my fingertips to my baseball cap. I was nine years old and gripped with fear on the windmill again.
Some of my “friends” on the ground saw my hesitation and began kidding me about my precarious trek across this narrow bridge. I did not laugh. This was not funny. If these guys knew how terrified I am at this moment, I thought to myself, they’d be praying for me. I thought of calling for Sam, but he was in California.
I gingerly tucked my hammer into my tool belt. Without looking up or down, I slowly reached my arms straight out from my sides, like I had seen tightrope walkers in the circus, and I began to walk . . . one treacherous step at a time. Halfway across the wall, it dawned on me that my outstretched arms were providing the perfect antidote to fear—they were giving me balance.
Chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel includes the perfect corrective for the anxiety you may be feeling at this moment. The responsibilities that rest on your shoulders are fairly overwhelming. Being successful at work, effectively fathering your kids, keeping your exercise and diet routine intact, spending enough time with your wife, being disciplined in your spiritual life, effectively protecting your mind and body from sin, keeping your garage in order . . . all of this can create such anxiety that you feel frozen to the windmill, unable to walk across the high wall. Even as a boy, Jesus knew about balance (v. 52).
Jesus Christ “grew in wisdom” (His intellectual and vocational pursuits), “stature,” (His physical conditioning), “in favor with God” (His spiritual development), “and in favor with . . . man” (His relational challenges). He refused to allow the stress and pressure of any one of these things to overshadow the others. He lived His life unfettered by paralyzing angst. He practiced the fine art of balance—keeping these things in perfect harmony with each other.
Then one dark Friday afternoon, our Savior spread out His arms and gave his life for you and me. His provision of grace provided us with the luxury of living our lives in perfect balance—free from the fear of the past or the future, unencumbered by the relentless pressures of life, and free from the threats or jeers from anyone or anything. Jesus has already freed you and me from the power of our most crippling fears: death, terminal illness, business failure . . . even our fear of heights. Isn’t this incredible?