I reached the top of the wall and turned my head to take in the view. I was higher than I expected to be, and for the first time I noticed that I could feel no tension in the belay line. Was there supposed to be tension?
I hadn’t thought it necessary to prove it first–why should I? But perched near the top of this wall, I suddenly realized the gravity of my mistake. I tried to lean back to put tension on the line, to feel it catch me, but the line gave me as much slack as I desired to allow me to climb freely.
We were climbing at an indoor facility with the boys to honor a birthday gift, so we’d had to watch a detailed video explaining the rules and use of the auto-belay system:
“Just unclip the auto-belay rope from its tether, clip it to the appropriate place on your harness, and voila! You’re ready to climb. The line feeds automatically into the mechanism overhead to eat up any slack as you go. All you have to do is push off the wall and the auto-belay system will gently lower you to the ground.”
Well, the boys had been eager to try, and though heights daunted them, they were quick to prove the auto-belay system. I was eager to climb, too, but once I got to the top of that wall, I found it much harder to put my faith in that tether.
I was in a predicament, and I quickly made a decision. I’m getting too old to take unnecessary risks–I mean, 40 is right around the corner. If the line didn’t catch, I was high enough to cause bodily injury. Best to climb back down the way I climbed up.
When I reached the bottom, my hands were trembling as I unclipped my harness. I was glad to be on solid ground again and figured I’d just stay there a while.
No dice. It wasn’t long before the boys were urging me to climb with them again, and despite all the self-pep-talks and courage mustering, I once again found myself clinging to the wall in fear.
This time I climbed just far enough to keep any possible injuries to a minor break or sprain and decided to prove the line. I couldn’t climb again until I knew for certain it would catch me. I took a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and pushed off the wall.
I fell a bit–just far enough that there was no hope of grabbing the wall again to save myself–and then I felt it.
The line caught.
Instead of holding me tight, though, it lowered me gently, but rather quickly, to the ground. My legs weren’t ready, and I landed in a jumbly mess. I stood up jelly-legged and looked around. It was not my most graceful moment, but I had done it. My heart swelled, ready to try again.
And that’s how I found myself in the middle of the fifty-foot wall.
Deciding to just keep looking up and climb as high as I could, I had strategized and stretched myself until my pulse quickened and my ears started ringing. I looked around bewildered and saw why–I was probably thirty feet in the air and a bit dizzy from the height. I turned my face back and clung to the wall.
Determined not to wimp out, I took a deep breath to calm my heart rate and keep going. Another challenge presented itself, but my pulse started racing and the vertigo grew more intense. About the worst scenario I could imagine would be to pass out at this point, so I decided to stop. Time to belay down.
Except I couldn’t.
Fear once again kept me pressed to the wall.
I had had too much faith in my faith and not enough faith in my tether.
I turned a bewildered look to Mick, who was watching from across the room. I met his questioning look with a nod. I’m fine. Just need to get down.
I tried to reason with myself. You can trust the belay. It’ll catch you. Just let go. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how much I believed that the belay would catch me, I just didn’t have the faith to kick back and rest in it, allowing it to carry my weight. I chided myself for being so faithless as I began to climb down once more.
However, I soon encountered another problem: as I eased back down the wall, I hit one of those challenging spots and realized I was stuck. I had taken a leap to get this far, and there was no going back. I was powerless to remedy the situation, to rescue myself from the poor choices I’d made. There was no way to climb down: I would have to use the auto-belay.
I checked the floor. Still too high. If it didn’t work, I’d sustain terrible injuries. That is, if I avoided death.
I took a deep breath, then another, then a few more. I readied myself, took another deep breath, and pushed off from the wall of my security to hold tight to the line that promised to hold me.
I fell again, but the line caught. How sure it felt! This time I was high enough to get used to the rate of descent. I took in the view as I descended, no longer dizzied by the height.
My legs were ready for impact, and I landed firmly, gracefully, on the mat. With trembling hands and a grateful heart, I unclipped and joined my family. Mick showed me a picture of just how high I’d gone, and I stood amazed.
Once my emotional trust was in agreement with what my head knew to be true, I was ready to do it again–and again. At our boys’ invitation, I took my newfound faith back to the kids’ wall and raced them to the top. With my heart beating in my ears, I was able to let go with abandon and call down with glee, “Look out below!”
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:1-4