You learn a lot of really strange and unexpected lessons about life and godliness by working with kids. The least of which are not a series of games, skits, and riddles to pass the time in between. There’s a lot of “in between” with children and youth that needs to be filled with something semi-purposeful, at the very least, intentional, or else they fill it with something else. I remember how, years ago, when I was a kid, and then again when I was around and among them, I learned to trustfall.
I don’t know what it’s really called, but it’s a partner activity in trust. You’ve seen it done a thousand different ways, and so have I. When I was a kid, I refused to trustfall. I never went to church youth group or anything, like the kids I work with at summer camp, but a few summers I raced a wooden car that my dad helped me make in a Baptist church derby and they taught us this trustfall game. The teacher expected me to turn away from her so that I couldn’t see her and let my weight fall fearlessly off of my own feet into her arms. Her arms would be there, even though I couldn’t see and wasn’t sure. I never played. I just watched the teacher catch the other kids. The kids laughed when she caught them, relieved to feel the gentle resistance and be put back on two feet again.
It wasn’t until I was grown that I remembered trustfall again. The counselor in my cabin played with our girls on the first day. It served as something of an icebreaker, a get-to-know-you game. I didn’t find it to be a game at all. It was terrifying and made me anxious. I avoided the activity at all costs and succeeded save for one camper who clung to me during most events. She constantly asked me to catch her and I feared her trust. Feared I may crush it if I slipped or she caught me off guard or I wasn’t standing close enough. My heart raced when Sierra spun around to fall into the open space before me; that carefree fall would never be me.
There was the question of willingness, sure. Maybe the friend that had promised to catch you thought it the perfect time for a practical joke, a prank that would let you fall backwards for what felt like minutes until your bottom hit the sand unpleasantly while everyone laughed. I wasn’t prepared to risk that kind of embarrassment or discomfort. Once you throw your shoulders back, it’s too late to reestablish your feet beneath you. If the catch isn’t there, the ground is the next stop on this flight. Then there was the question of ability. I’m not a kid anymore, I’m a bit bigger than a kid, in fact. Even a friend with the best of intentions might love to catch me but be caught off guard at the velocity of my falling weight, and we’d both come tumbling to the ground in an awful heap. I’d rather not take part in that situation, either. I’m quite comfortable with both feet on the ground, falling nowhere.
As safe as falling nowhere may be, it isn’t very adventurous. As an easy and obvious metaphor to life, it doesn’t show much trust in my Savior and, frankly, it’s too safe to have any fun! So, it’s a good thing that I had a persistent friend who showed me, once, what working with youth is all about. She wouldn’t let me off the hook with my trustfall fear.
Whitney all but marched around the campgrounds behind me with her arms out in front of her, repeating the word “Ready?” until I was. I tried to get her off my case by breaking the rules: asking if I could look over my shoulder while I fell, step back with one foot instead of falling, fall sideways, have her step so close I could see her hands reaching forward. But she wouldn’t budge. I was going to trust her. I was going to fall.
And the feeling of finally falling back was, for a very short time, as terrifying as I had ever imagined it. I think I held my breath. To launch my body off the surety of the heels of my feet was almost a paralyzing feeling. The moments after that, I felt in limbo. I hadn’t been caught yet, so there was no relief, but I hadn’t hit the ground, so things weren’t a disaster yet, either. I was curious and still scared. But the moment I felt the springy feeling of Whitney’s arms like a hug, I knew why those children in my class laughed when the teacher caught them. The relief that calms that momentary confusion and eases the tremble in my floating, falling body was overwhelming. It kind of felt like a surge through my limbs. I was tickled all over and thrilled that I had accomplished what I had so long thought foolish and silly.
This is what it can feel like to trust. We ultimately fear the crash. We also fear the confusion that clouds our vision right before it’s clear what the result will be. But we forget the promises we have in Christ. Even for those of us who don’t care a lick about Him; His promise to us is love, unconditionally. We can only ever know by letting the weight of ourselves fall back, and drink in those moments of suspended weightlessness when our feet have nothing to hold. And prove to ourselves, or someone else, that there’s a sure thing back there in that unknown. There’s someOne to trust.