The Thrill — and Fear — of Free Falling

An examination of letting go and surrendering to God even when you’re terrified

Imagine a moment of complete free fall.

If you have ever experienced that jolt in your gut, that razor chill throughout your body, that overwhelming instant when everything pauses in a moment of pure terror as you let go of the edge … you know what I’m describing. This is the body kicking into survival mode. I feel it when I go cliff-jumping in Muskoka, ride the Drop Zone at Wonderland, and every time I endure a major life transition. Can I reasonably compare a physical free fall to an emotional one? Yes. Yes I can.

Recall a moment of surrender of your own: waiting for that phone call, letting go of a breakup, not knowing if you’ll pass a class, finding out you or a loved one is ill, wondering where your life will go when school is over … These are real human moments we share. Everyone has them.

During these moments of pain and uncertainty, God encourages us to surrender. When we hear “surrender,” we often think of giving up. We may think it’s a synonym for oppression or submission; that suddenly letting go might compromise what we really want. Somehow we let it become more about fear and less about desire. But it’s exactly the opposite. God not only knows the ways of the universe, he also knows the desires of our hearts. And God wants us to trust him with those desires.

Trust — not an easy task

“Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:7). Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Scripture is full of examples of trust, but it’s no easy task.

God says, “Let me bring you into something better.” But what it sounds like to us is, “Let go, and fall into oblivion.”

My most recent life transition includes getting a new job, moving to a new city, living on my own, and beginning post-grad studies. This all happened within a month. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a dream come true. But my thoughts leading up to this point — and during the steep transition — are comparable to me hanging on the edge of a cliff. Before these opportunities, I was essentially unemployed and living at home.

In these months, I had a lot of time to think. When I thought in circles, I thought aloud to my friends. And when I tired all of my friends out with my thoughts, I cried in my parents’ arms. When I had gathered enough strength, I’d write my thoughts down. I used those reflections to expand my freelance writing. I paid attention to the details. I enjoyed the quiet days. I experimented with cooking, and spent more time with my grandparents. I went for long walks with my dog and tended to the garden. I took my time eating. I listened to my own breathing. I did A LOT of yoga. I’d pray and ask why. I let my mind wander. I’d allow myself to be weak and uncertain and afraid. Essentially, I allowed myself to be human. And I allowed God in to see me in my humanness. I learned that inviting Him in is enough.

How did I know that things would work out? I didn’t. And that’s what made letting go so much more glorious.

I didn’t know if my prayers were being heard. I didn’t know if I would feel proud or secure in my life. I didn’t know if I was qualified for any good job. I didn’t know if I’d ever leave my childhood home and grow into a confident adult. But I had to let go and let God handle it with me.

Better beginnings

That moment of letting go and handing everything over feels a lot like falling off a cliff, and I won’t try to sugarcoat that. It’s a very real thing. But as Lao Tzu wisely said, “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Things won’t just be okay when you take God’s hand, they’ll often be better.

The point is — how would we grow if we were never challenged? How would Alice have discovered Wonderland if she never followed the White Rabbit? How would Harry Potter have discovered his potential as a Wizard without years of trial and error with magic? How would Wendy have experienced Neverland without faith, trust, and Pixie Dust? Yes, surrendering is absolutely terrifying and truly difficult. But what grand adventure story doesn’t involve some danger and suspense? If we want to experience something beyond our comprehension, we need to invite something in that’s bigger than our imagination. And that’s God.

God wants to help you build the best life possible, and there are things he’s got planned that you may not have even thought of. Many great lives (especially the saints) endured suffering, pain, uncertainty, and fear. Surrendering to God seems like gambling when it’s really like investing. And it takes the investment of your whole heart to do it. This is all or nothing. Throwing yourself into the arms of the one who wants the best for you is ultimately liberating. God didn’t promise it would be easy, he just promised it would be worth the free fall.

Originally published January 2014.