I knew I was free climbing at a height that was too great for a mistake, but I was 18 and invincible. Then it happened – the rock I had reached for didn’t hold my weight, and I was free-falling. The clarity and terror of that moment were all-consuming. The superficial things in life dissolved, and I was suddenly and completely alone with God.
I prayed aloud as I fell,
“Lord Jesus, save me.”
The ground broke my fall – and me – but it didn’t kill me. God had tossed a lifeline my way – the ground was gently sloping, and as I rolled down to the creek bed, I remember thinking ‘you idiot; that wasn’t worth it.’ And I remember knowing the pain was going to come. I was afraid. And then it did come and became the center of my consciousness. The emotional reality of all that pain is difficult to describe. Perhaps the Psalmist does it best: “The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me.” Psalm 116:2 RSV
There are times in life when all our strongholds are stripped away, and we are alone with God. When all we have is Him, it feels like a free-fall.
I had already felt a call to the priesthood, and this experience affirmed it. Escaping death puts a lot into perspective. Because of the foundation of my faith, it never occurred to me to ask God why I had to endure such pain in such desolation. Part of facing the problem of suffering and evil in the world is accepting the ambiguity of it. And trusting that God knows what He is doing and that He has a plan even if we have no clue what that plan is.
What my faith brought to my fear and suffering was the fundamental principle that God is good, and the universe was created with a purpose. God called it out of chaos. God created firm ground and order.
That sounds simplistic, but when you are in the place of darkness and fear, it is easy to forget that God is good. Faith allows us to reach beyond the darkness of our experience of suffering to remember that God knows what he is doing and that His call for us is to be fearless.
I was carried out of that rocky gorge on a stretcher made of tree branches and T-shirts. And after a ride in a van, a helicopter, and an ambulance, I got to the hospital. And through the pain of recovery, God began to heal my fear.
Do you live without fear?
Father Joe Hermerding