I've been thinking about this girl a lot lately.
Meet little girl Sharon, age 8. The year was 1986 and although this picture may not look like anything special to you, it was a big deal to me at the time.
You see, I've never been an especially spirited or adventurous kind of gal. I like to play it safe. You won't find me on an extreme snow boarding show or extreme makeover shows or extreme...well, anything.
Nope. Not this girl. I like to keep my feet on the ground and my path straight ahead. No twists, no turns, no unexpected risks or uncertain outcomes. The safer, the better, actually.
So that brings me back to this picture and why it caught my eye the other day.
I had been trying for a while to get up the courage to hang upside down on our little metal swingset in my backyard. I remember marching myself out there with determination and courage, grasping tightly the metal bar while lifting one leg and then the other up and over that bar, and then clinging to that pole for dear life.
All I had to do was just let go. A simple thing, really, and not all that risky now that I look back and think about it. But at the time, it felt extremely dangerous. Everything looked so distorted when my world was upside down and I felt much higher up than I actually was. It seemed as if I were suspended at least 50 feet up into the air and if I actually let go of that metal bar, I would surely come crashing down straight onto my head. So I would just stay there. Too afraid to release my grip. Disappointed in myself but willing to live with that if it meant safety.
I worked on this for quite a while. Each time I would think, "today's the day! I'm gonna let go". And each day I would chicken out. Too risky.
The day this picture was taken, my mom was out there to witness the big event. I climbed back up, hooked the back of my knees onto the metal bar, counted to three, and did the one thing I was so afraid to do. I released my grip and let go even though my world looked upside down and I was afraid of what might happen.
Mom was there to snap the picture, serving as cheerleader (and perhaps assistance in the event I needed a hand) and ready to capture my moment of victory. I suspect I'm not smiling in the picture because I was playing it cool, as though I'd done this hundreds of times before and my mom was just being a mom, wanting a picture of an ordinary moment. Right.
I've thought about that little girl who was too afraid to let go because I've recently parted ways with her.
It took me a very long time. Far too long, actually, to tell her goodbye. I would get up my courage time and time again that I was going to take the next leap, let go of things I'd been clinging to for so long, and experience the freedom that comes with releasing things which were robbing me of really living. And with that courage, I'd march out to my grown-up version of the swingset, hook my knees onto the pole, and then sit there.
And there she would be again, shouting that I couldn't possibly let go. My entire world was upside down, for pete's sake! I grew to hate that girl with such a loud voice and such influence over my choices. Her name may be little girl Sharon, but she seemed a lot like someone else I know who goes by the name Deceiver.
And so I held on tightly, refusing to loosen my grip and experience what could be the next step of my life. Oh, there were other voices besides little girl Sharon urging me to keep hanging on. They came up with lots of reasons that sounded good at first glance, but the more I listened and studied and scrutinized those voices, the less they sounded like voices I should be giving creedence to.
Because you see, in the midst of all those voices, there was one voice among them I began to hear a little more clearly with each passing day.
This voice was different. This voice was calm. It was soothing. It was peaceful and gentle even though the message this voice brought was scarier than all the other voices combined. This voice required no action on my part but one:
RELEASE YOUR GRIP, SHARON.
Y'all, I just can't tell you how I struggled mightily with that voice. I couldn't. I wouldn't. Absolutely not, I argued. That's not safe. I can't possibly be hearing that voice correctly, I would tell myself. Surely all these other voices can hear and discern more clearly for my life than I could. No, I think I'd much prefer to cling to this metal bar and only halfway experience living. Sure, my hands were aching and my grip was faltering, but I would manage somehow. If I just listened to all those other voices vying for my allegiance and followed their instructions, I could do this! No need to let go and let my world be turned absolutely upside down. I'll just stay right here, thank you.
But here's the thing about this voice:
"My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life." (John 10:27)
I did know that voice.
It was Jesus. It wasn't the loudest voice in the midst of turmoil and others who told me they were representatives of Jesus so I should trust their input. It wasn't the most compelling voice sometimes when all I wanted to do was just keep hanging onto that metal pole.
But it was the only voice that was still there in the darkness. The only one that never left my side regardless of my fear or my questions or my anger or my tears.
It was the only voice I knew in my heart to be Truth.
And I knew it was time to follow that voice. It was time to release my grip regardless of how upside down my world would be when I did.
And it was the same voice that was there in the rubble and ashes of that upside down world.
John 10:28 goes on to say, " They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him.
I adore that passage. It comforted me as a kid when I was worried about my salvation. Did I do it right? Did I mean it sincerely enough? Am I REALLY okay and in His hand for good?
And it comforted me in those dark weeks and months after releasing my grip and feeling upside down at first. But the strangest part was this: even though I was upside down, I could see clearer, hear better, and live more fully than I had ever thought I would be able to in such chaos.
That voice I had heard and (oh, so slowly) agreed to finally follow was now keeping His promise to be the Good Shepherd who guides, sustains, and protects His own. Through no goodness or amazing faithfulness on my part, Jesus has seen fit to be the promise keeper He's told me He would be. He hasn't left my side in this upside down, broken world.
Because you see, He, too, knows the feeling of releasing His grip on how He hoped things would go. He understands the fear and the pain of seeing your plans not go the way you always wanted. He knows fully the road of faith and how it is difficult. The difference is, He never tripped or faltered on that difficult road like I do.
But He's there to pick me up, dust me off, and bring me exactly what I need in that moment to keep me going.
I would cheer little girl Sharon on in that picture if I could. I'd tell her I'm so proud of her for letting go even though it took her a long time to get up enough courage to do it. And I'd tell her that was just the first of many times her world would feel upside down, but that it's the times we are upside down that we most clearly hear the one Voice that matters.
And that really is ALL that matters.