falling grace-fully

After a full Easter weekend, our family took a much needed 36 hour respite and traveled up to central Pennsylvania to spend a day with my side of the family.  And as always, my parents had planned a number of exciting activities to do with the grandkids.  Egg hunts, wiffle ball, hot tubbing. These were great fun…. well, most of them.

The last thing that we did before leaving was breakout the old Twister game.  Remember that one?  People sprawling all over each other, falling down, laughing.  In particular, teenage boys LOVE the coed version of this game.  Nuff said there.

So back to yesterday.  The little cousins (3, 4, and 4) had never played twister before, so it was a fun idea. Bright colors, eye hand coordination, acrobatic stances.  Let me reiterate…. the idea, itself, was a good one.  Image

But the reality?  Not so much.  In fact, it was kind of a disaster.  My boys, learning about the classic Twister rules for the first time, got a pretty good grasp of how to play.  “Put your hand on a red dot.  Then, without moving your hand, put your foot on a blue dot.  Now, put your other hand on a yellow dot without falling over!”

They got that part.  But there was a problem.  From the beginning, there seemed to be an unnatural tension, an angst, in my little Millers.  The moments came pretty quickly when the color positions were too tough for them to match. That hand just couldn’t reach behind that foot.  And the body, though frantically attempting to stay put, asserted it’s autonomy from the mind and toppled over.   When that happened, I watched the boys and laughed at them as they yelled and crashed to the ground (note to self: develop empathy).  Turns out I was most definitely laughing at them, and not with them.  Because they were sobbing.

You see, my wonderful, sweet, perfectionist children couldn’t understand that the game always ends by falling down.  And since they couldn’t accept this reality, they were never able to enjoy the game, or play it fully.  What was supposed to be great fun became terrifying. They were so afraid of falling, so upset by the possibility of tumbling over, that they were paralyzed.  But that didn’t change the fact: for almost everyone, the game ends with falling.

Actually, it’s kind of the whole point.  That’s the fun of it- you know it’s going to happen, and you embrace it, and when you fall, you laugh, you roll over, you get back up, and you hop on the dots again.

But we forgot to explain that crucial bit of information to our kids at the beginning.  And since we didn’t explain that falling and laughing and getting up was a part of the game, we had unknowingly conveyed that you weren’t supposed to fall… like that was losing.  And no one likes to lose.

Some of you might be thinking, “well, Keith….. that is losing.”
Touche! But really?  The point of Twister, really, is to not fall?  Because, as I recall, the most fun moments of twister are when you fall, or when you nearly fall, because it’s impossible to hold your balance forever in that game.  Think of how awfully boring the game would be if it just went on and on for an hour just keeping an easy balance and never stretching for those hard to reach dots that are out of your grasp. As I pulled my boys into another room, held them while they cried (because they “just kept falling” and “couldn’t stay up”), I had to explain to them that falling was a part of the game.  In fact, that was what made the game so fun… it was an adventure, because you could fall at anytime. And then you’d laugh, roll around, get up, and jump back in.  They looked at me like I was speaking about a whole new world.

You mean that’s ok?

I’m allowed to fall over?

That’s what makes it fun?

We headed back to the vinyl Twister pad ready to play again… and most certainly, ready to fall. It still brought a few tears, overcoming their already imprinted 4 year old worldview, but I saw some growth.

And then it hit me. Wow. We are so the same.

Isn’t it hard embrace a reality where falling down is part of the game? Where we expect that as we stretch out, as we reach for new dots, and as we go through our lives, toppling is inevitable?

We need to learn how to embrace falling, and stop letting it paralyze us.
We need to embrace the nature of this game, and stop letting the risk of failure steal our joy, or stop our movement.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling like there are moments where my fear of falling down has stopped me from living fully.  My need to never mess up, to never fail, to impress everyone, to be successful in all that I do… actually stops me from reaching for new dots. Because I hate falling.

Nearly 8 years ago when Bethany and I recited our vows to each other, one of the most meaningful phrases we included in there was, “I give you the freedom to fail.” Boy have I relied on that one regularly!  But seriously, the knowledge that our value is not based on our performance is something that revolutionizes our lives.  It’s something that was central to the message of Jesus.

Our life over the past two years has been a series of dot-reaches.  Listening for which color, and which foot, and then trying to step there.  We’ve faced decision after decision that put us out there, precariously teetering.  And I’ve fallen, already, a whole bunch of times.  I’m getting to the point where I can go ahead and call them “failings” without a problem.  But I’m learning, as a pastor, a church planter, a leader, a husband, a dad, and a friend….. that if I’m paralyzed by fear, I’ll rarely reach out to step into the risky new opportunities that make up this adventurous, faith-filled life.

Helen Keller noticed, “Security is mostly a superstition…. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

So much of the good life involves risk.  Faith involves risk.  Love involves TONS of risk.  And we simply won’t ever risk anything if we’re afraid that things won’t work.
In our church, I want to help us develop a healthy Twister theology.  I want people taking risks, stepping out into exciting new adventures, re-imagining what the church can be.  And some ideas will flop.  Some initiatives will fail.  Some of us will be frustrated.  But we’ll hop up, smile, and know that hey, it’s all a part of the game.

I’m going to fall.  So are you. And if you think failing is failure, then you’ll never have a shot at enjoying the life God designed for us.  Laughter will be rare, and fear will rule the day.

Hopefully through Twister (and maybe a bit of healthy parenting), my kids will continue to learn the beauty and adventure of risky love, and risky faith.  And the inevitability of falling.  And the joy and laughter of living life drenched in grace and new opportunities.  And while I’m teaching them that, I hope I learn it too.

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2 thoughts on “falling grace-fully

  1. I appreciated the post, Keith. It speaks to much of what it means to be human and what it means to be Christ-like in our humanity. As humans, we willingly step into precarious positions in our own lives, because that’s where growth and accomplishments occur. But as we do, we are fully aware that we risk falling in the process. But stepping, risking, growing and accomplishing is at least in part, what it means to be human. Then, when we inevitably fall, we fall grace-fully (in humility and love), realizing that if we don’t fall grace-fully we often harm both ourselves and others. That’s what it means to be Christlike in our humanity. Speaking of falling grace-fully, I have another Twister analogy from the weekend. I remember fighting hard as I was losing my balance once, so I would not just come crashing down, because I would have crushed Kendi (the 3-yr old) underneath me. So I had to do my best to fall grace-fully. In the process it was good for me AND good for her!

  2. This post was passed along to me through Donovan Hayes, who lives with us along with his wife, in Easton, PA. Christians, particularly prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers and evangelists, need a new lexicon to describe the life of a christian. While “missional,” “intentional” and the similar serve some purpose, the language pales to what a christian should expect in his or her walk. When asked about being a christian I describe it as “dangerous,” “high-risk,” “culturally idiotic,” while at the same time mystically joyous, decadent and triumphant. Risk, is the central theme of a christians life. If anything should be intentional, it should be a life lived so antithetical to our cultural mores and social baselines it should either amaze or offend. The greatest weakness of Western Christianity is risk-aversion. For the most part christians have become assimilated into our culture – one of comfort, predictability and intolerable of suffering.

    This post is a good reminder of the what an honor it is to suffer, live dangerously and willingly offer our bodies, minds and souls to be twisted and turned and thrown down for the sake of our Savior. More so, it is the very being of our calling.

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