Walking Off A Cliff Backward

by ERIK ORTON on DECEMBER 2, 2016

My ten year old son was up on a cliff ledge, about thirty feet up.   It was a crisp autumn afternoon and this was his first time to the cliffs.  I was standing at the bottom and shouted up, “Just walk off the ledge backward.”  As soon as I said it I realized how wrong it sounded.  My son was terrified, crying.  Could I blame him?  But the truth was, stepping backward into the openness was the best thing he could do.

I was standing at the bottom and had helped him climb up to that point.  I was there to catch him.  He had a harness on and so did I.  A rope went from him to the top of the cliff and back down to me.  He was on a pulley.  I completely had him, but the feeling was still terrifying.  It always is.  Our bodies and minds are designed to not walk backward off cliffs.  

I told him to sit down and lean back.  Maybe that would be easier.  He tried, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.  His mother and sisters all stood around at the bottom gazing up and trying to say encouraging words that would reassure him.  But he would not be comforted.  He sat sideways and reached down with one foot.  He even got one butt cheek off the ledge with his one leg reaching way down, but he would not commit.  He would not trust the rope or me.  As I sat there trying to help my scared son, I couldn’t help but reflect:  “I feel like I’m like that with God.”

“Okay, Erik, I just need you to turn around and walk backward off this cliff.  I’ve got you 100%.  You’re safe.  I just need you to trust me.”  But I don’t see a rope.  And I don’t feel a harness.  And doing that means certain death.  In the end I say:  “I’m sorry God, I can’t.  I’m just going to stay here paralyzed by fear.  Thanks though.”  It wasn’t until I watched my son and heard my first words to him that I realized he was me.  There are so many things in this universe and this life that terrify us, and by “us” I mean “me”.  How many times do I suffer and struggle because I don’t trust a wise voice, a mentor, someone who sees further than I do and who loves me?  

In the end, I turned the rope over to one of my daughters.  I climbed up the cliff and reached a spot just below the ledge where he sat.  His boy legs dangled down.  I reached up as high as I could with one arm.  

“Put your foot in my hand.  I’ve got you,” I said.  He reached out with one foot and I held it there.  He put weight on to it and trusted it but was still far from certain.  I continued, “Now turn around and step down with your other foot.  You can put it right here in my hand.”  And he did.  Gradually he came off the ledge and together we descended back down to the ground.  He was never in danger.  And the ledge was not necessarily more or less safe than the ground.  But traveling between the two can frighten us.  It frightened my son, and in my own way, I have my own ledges.  But I’m grateful to my son for ultimately trusting me.  I hope I can be more trusting.