Scary First Steps

Why is the first step often so scary? What is it we are afraid of? I remember the first time I went rappelling at a Wild at Heart Boot Camp at Frontier Ranch in Colorado. It was, well, terrifying.

The scariest part was waiting for my turn. Could I do this? Would I chicken out at the last minute? Would I be the only one who froze-up halfway down the cliff and the belay-guy had to rescue me? I watched guy after guy take off in graceful ease like they were born to do this – the way cool guys can always do things when someone like me is watching. I tried to pay attention while the instructor explained what to do, but I was too nervous to listen.

rappelling However, once I cleared the platform, stepped over the edge, and had my feet planted on the rock face, I was no longer afraid. I fed the rope through my D-ring at a steady pace, making my way down the mountain with beautiful bouncing steps. I was amazing. I was one of the cool guys. I hooted so loud I could hear the echo off the opposite canyon wall. I was the man of unlimited courage!

That is, until we made our way over to the high ropes course. I immediately deteriorated from courage-guy to fraidy-cat-guy. It was pathetic.

I wasn’t afraid of falling to my death. I trusted the gear and construction and guides. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the course and they’d have to stop everyone to pluck me from the scaffolding.

But once I moved past that first step on the cable, I wasn’t afraid. I focused on the task at hand, kept my eyes on the wire, inched my feet along, and held on to the overhead hand ropes. I didn’t worry how goofy I looked; I just kept going.

In his book Running With the Pack, Mark Rowlands wrote, “That is the magical thing about first steps. Before that step I was outwardly calm but inwardly riddled with doubt. Will my calf hold together? Will I be able to go the distance? How painful will this be? How humiliating? But with that first step, all my doubts are washed away by the quiet calm of certitude.”

I remember how afraid I was taking the first step to marry Cyndi - asking her. Not scared that she would say No, but scared to move into the great unknown life ahead. However, after that first question, after that December 1978 night, I’ve never been afraid of being married. Still not.

My first steps in my first marathon, in 1983, weren’t so scary, but only because I didn’t know enough to understand what I was getting in to. However, I remember several marathons later when I ran the Paper Chase in Amarillo in 1998, that first step was very scary. I’d piled too much emotional baggage on that race and made my fears even deeper. Until they fired the gun and I took my first step. Then I just kept running. As it turned out, I finished in a reasonable time (for me), on my own two feet, and I could still walk the next day.

Mountaineer David Lloyd George warned, “Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

When Cyndi and I left the adult Bible study class where we’d taught for fifteen years, a warm and safe class full of our own age-group peers, to begin a new class of 20-year-old newlyweds, well, the first steps were frightening. I loved teaching, and I knew I was good at it, but I wasn’t at all convinced what I did would work with these youngsters. Would they understand any of my cultural references? Would I understand theirs?

Yet, as soon as I started teaching that first Sunday morning it felt like the place where I belonged. But I had to dive in, cross the chasm, before it felt good.

How about you? What are the scary first steps in front of you that have you stopped in your tracks? Maybe it’s time to leap forward. James Lawrence says, “A better you lies just on the other side of fear.”


I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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