There have been very few times I can say I have been legitimately afraid in my adult life, but this, this was one of them.
As I stared out across the broad, very broad, river looking at a 500 meter swim course that seemed more like a 500 mile course at the moment; the F.E.A.R I had been dreading leading up to this welled up.
Steady strong breathing became anxious quick breathing, but there was nothing for it now. The participant in the triathlon sprint ahead of me just dove in; which meant in ten seconds, ready or not, I was taking my own plunge into the unknown, the untested, the point of no return…
I am not usually one who gets into our cultures’ acronyms for everything, but I did hear one once that has stuck with me: that is a definition of what fear really is, F.E.A.R., or False Evidence Appearing Real. It would be this triathlon sprint that tested this definition and its’ power over me.
All the Evidence pointed to a disastrous, and quite frankly potentially deadly, outcome for me if I attempted the race. Foremost was the evidence that I had only two practice swims in the past week, let alone the past decade, in a lap pool at my local YMCA to prepare me for the very much different experience of the open water swim.
There is also the evidence that I am a 32 year old man who already has had back surgery, knee surgery, and just two weeks prior severely sprained his good ankle to the extent of the picture below.
Not to mention a culture telling me that a man of my age and injury proclivities' time has passed and it is ok, nay expected, by now to get a little squishy and lazy. Doctors telling me, with my injuries, that any serious sports were out the window. And to top it off both ankles heavily braced all lead me to the conclusion that this was probably not the best idea.
So with this Apparent Reality of a unqualified body, inadequate training, and an overwhelming sense that I had gotten in far over my head or abilities staring me in the face: one word surfaced in my mind.
The buzzer sounded for my start and I gingerly walked down the plank and dove in. Fifteen confident strokes in, with all the exertion my very bad swim technique dragging on me, and all the aforementioned F.E.A.R flooded back.
Unable to see the bottom,
unable to stand,
swallowing river water,
the life guards in kayaks seemingly leagues away,
450 meters to go,
and already to far to turn back;
despair and certain demise took hold.
However, just as I was about to give in, a different kind of conviction overpowered and broke through the fear saying “Be strong and courageous, staying true to Me, that you may have success wherever you go (Joshua 1:7). For I will equip you in every good thing (Hebrews 13:21), never giving you more than you can bear (1 Cor. 10:13); and I will never leave you or forsake you, so do not be afraid or discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8).”
I realized all of a sudden I had been treading water, the guys in canoes eyeing me worriedly; so I gathered my resolve, my strength, remembered I had a plan, and then truly began my race.
10 strokes, turn over, back stroke till my breathing steadied, rinse and repeat.
First turn down, then the second, then the third, final straight away.
A beautiful, massive, strong volunteer reached out his hand and helped pull me out the water; and as I took my first few stumbling steps back on to dry land, I knew the rest of the triathlon was within my grasp. Oh, how I wish it was that easy, or the end…
However, one thing did resolve, fear really did reveal itself to be nothing but false evidence that only appeared to be real. The truth lay in what I did with that knowledge, and what I truly had faith in: myself, or in the One who gave me all I would need to finish. The One who pushed me to train as hard as I did (despite the lack of swimming), not giving in when an injury, or injuries set me back, not forsaking me as fear tightened its grip.
And so I turned my fear around, recreating it into the thing that would see me through: that is, Revitalizing Authentic Empowering Faith.
What will you do with the F.E.A.R. in your life?
Come back and read in a few weeks how the race ended in…blood, loss, and true triumph.