Friday, 23 November 2018

Tall trees and abject terror - by Helen Murray

I had a moment the other day. A 'kairos' moment, where things suddenly become clear, or a moment where the penny finally drops and something that you've known intellectually crystallises into something that you understand on a profound level. Whatever they're known as - I had one of those.

 "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus...:
Hebrews 12:2

Keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus has been my aim for many years now, with hugely varying degrees of success. There are times when I glimpse Him, times when I can't find Him, times when I stop looking completely, but I have carried this exhortation with me since the early days of my faith. I've understood it in abstract terms; I should keep in mind the things of God, I should look to Jesus for my example of how to live, I should look at Him rather than allow my eyes to wander and lead me into temptations of all kinds. All those things.

And then there came the day that I found myself up a tree fifteen metres above the ground, about to step out onto a single thin wire leading to another tree.

Yes, I had a harness on, connected to a second thin wire at chin level that I could hold onto as the clip slid along with each step I took. I had undergone a half-hour training session that was intended to instil in me complete confidence in the harness in case I fell off the wire. I was there of my own free will; indeed, I had paid for the experience.

We took the kids to an adventure playground which is billed as "a daring rope-course challenge" with "stomach-churning swings and electrifying zip wires." The more athletic and adventurous of my daughters chose this as a birthday treat and, well, we didn't quite know what we were in for.

"Prepare yourself for a day of blood-pumping high rope activities that are sure to test your nerve!"

I can attest that my heart was pumping, my stomach was churning and my nerve was well and truly tested.

My (main) problem was that I hadn't appreciated how afraid of heights I was. I had thought of myself as being moderately nervous; a standard level kind of fear. A respect for gravity, maybe. I had not realised how cripplingly, breathtakingly terrified I was going to be. Yes, I had a harness on, and three clippy things (I'm sure they've got proper names but details like that went in one ear and out of the other during the safety briefing). Since we only ever unclipped one at a time to transfer between wires, it meant we were always clipped onto the safety wire. Did this comforting knowledge help in the slightest bit?

No, it did not.

I have never been so frightened for such an extended period in my entire life. It was such unrelieved awfulness that at one point my daughter said to me, 'Mummy, is this the worst day of your life?' and I was forced to arrange my features into a rictus-like smile and assure her that it was far from the worst day of my life, while thinking to myself, 'Oh, I do hope so.'

The only way I could get across the different high-wire paths, whether they were suspended stepping stones, swinging planks or rope bridges, was to fix my eyes firmly on the platform to which I was heading. When I say fix, I mean, fix. I don't think I even blinked.  If I glanced at the ground (so far below) for even a second my head went funny, my legs went wobbly and my already white knuckles tightened so far that at one point my fingers cramped into claws and wouldn't open again. I had to straighten them out by flattening them on my leg.

I stared firmly at the next tree. Specifically, at the industrial-looking, red-painted bolts with which the safety wire was connected to the tree. Not to right or left, not up or (certainly not) down. Never has my gaze been so perfectly fixed on something.

For three and a half hours I trembled, clipped, unclipped, re-clipped, stared, gripped and tried to remember to breathe. When I finally picked myself up off the floor after the final zip wire and picked bark chips out of the back of my jeans for the last time, I had to fight back the tears of relief and sit down with a cup of tea while the muscles in my legs stopped twitching and the post-adrenaline nausea passed.

What a dreadful morning. But, the lesson I learned that day has stuck with me. I know what 'Fix your eyes on Jesus' really means. I didn't before.

It means keep looking at him, not to the right or the left, or upwards or downwards. Don't look at the rope, or the harness, or your feet, or even those shouting encouragement. Look straight in His eyes, and you'll get across. I found that the presence of the harness or the excellent safety record of the park gave me no reassurance whatsoever. The thing that got me through (apart from quivers-full of arrow prayers) was focusing consistently on one point of fixed stability.

Jesus is the same now as He was in the beginning, when He was with God, and He was God. He died, rose again to life, and still lives. Steady, reliable, and trustworthy. Just like Peter who jumped impulsively out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water, I need not fear falling when my eyes are locked onto His.  When Peter became distracted by the storm and glanced nervously away, he began to sink, and when I glanced at the ground so far below me, or all the other wire bridges left to cross, I felt dizzy and weak and overwhelmed.

I needed reminding. Maybe God thought that nothing less than abject terror would get the message across and this is what he came up with.

Life has thrown some pretty troublesome things my path in the last year or so and this ridiculous way to spend a morning showed me how to negotiate the chasm between one place of comparative rest and the next. One tree to the next, tiny step by step, cling on tightly. Shuffle if you must. Clip, unclip, clip on again, test the safety line, make sure that you are always attached.

Fix your eyes on Jesus. When you do, you'll find Him gazing right back at you with love.

You'll be amazed at what you can do.

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as being a reader and a writer, she is a student of theology, a master of procrastination, a drinker of far too much coffee and a full-time swim mum. If you get a whiff of chlorine while reading the blog, it's probably because it was written on a poolside somewhere. 

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


  1. What an inspiring post! Beautiful. I love 'one tree to the next... Clip, unclip... Shuffle if you must.' Isn't that what it's like sometimes? Fixing our eyes on Jesus will get us through .

  2. I have to admit, I did this in hospital earlier this year - an experience like Helen's, utterly terrifying and horrible ... it becomes less 'easy and natural' when you are through the worst of a situation, back on the ground so to speak ... good to be reminded! It has also changed my faith in other ways. Good post Helen for all of us!

  3. Oh such a great analogy and reminder to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Love it!

  4. I was gripped by your account, Helen, and yes, I love the analogy too. Well done for making it through the day :)