How to move forward


Outside my window, a bird trills its early morning gladness.

At the beach where we’ve walked these two past weeks, the tide will have turned, each wave now inching a little closer to the red clay cliffs, straining forward, falling back, straining forward, falling back.

The hermit crabs on the sandy floor of their tide pool homes will be racing busily toward one another, loving, playing, fighting; who can tell what their frantic tussling means? The tiny creatures attack each other fiercely, but at the first stirring of the pool by a giant foot, they draw skinny legs back into their borrowed shells and become stone.

Sometimes I’m a wave on the sand, straining forward, falling back, shifting the land beneath me, however imperceptibly, as my own self ruffles and curls and breaks. Sometimes I’m a stone or a bit of glass, being slowly worn and tumbled smooth by the strength of grace against me. Sometimes a hermit crab, busily running toward others then retreating into silent hiding. Always, whether I am acting it or being acted on by it, I share in the universal pattern: press forward, fall back; work, sleep; engage, withdraw. No action can be unceasing, no progress constant. Or perhaps I say more truly that the falling back is part of the progress, a preparation, a deepening of gratitude for the grace that enfolds it all, a moving away and letting go to move toward and be filled, perhaps this time a little more fully.

It’s easy to see the goodness of the rhythm in the world around us. Even in the bitterness of the biting fall winds tearing the last brown leaves from their tenacious hold, we see that it must be, that spring will come again as surely as day follows night and the new moon waxes into the full. There must always be a letting go before a filling up. Naked winter precedes leaf-laced spring. The non-negotiable prerequisite for resurrection is death.

It’s harder to submit to the cycle ourselves. A host of emotions invites us into this cycle of letting go and being renewed: the heaviness of guilt, the damp salt of grief drying on cheeks. Sleepless anger and raging pain and, yes, fear, too.

Perhaps more than any other emotion, fear reveals my resistance to the cycle of letting go and being filled. To put it simply, I fear because I cling. I fear, most often, because I’m holding tightly to something other than Jesus. It might be a desire that others think well of me, or a craving for security. Often I find myself, white-knuckled, grasping at control; I want to determine how and when something happens. Sometimes I ache for change – in myself, or in others, or in a particular situation. (Karen Webber‘s mnemonic ask – spelled ASCC – helps me remember these four places I typically cling: Affirmation, Security, Control, Change.)

When I’m afraid, (and when I remember!), I ASCC Jesus to help me see what I’m holding onto. Sometimes, then, I can surrender it to God and let it go, and with it goes the fear. Sometimes the red stone cliffs of my resistance need to meet a few more tides of grace before my  grasping hold gives way. Even in the grasping, when I can’t yet let go, I can ask Jesus to be with me in the struggle, turn back toward the grace that breaks over me again and again and again, grace intent on easing away my cliffs of stony resistance and setting me free.


This is the last in the series of posts on Fear: Liability or Asset? If you’re interested in another creative prayer-practice for praying in our fear, I’ve written here and  here about praying with clay.

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