Rumor was kids had died riding their bikes down “Suicide Hill.” Therefore, all summer a group of us hung out on the knob sitting on our stingrays–not seriously contemplating careening down the hill–but hoping to see some other sucker bite the dust. All elbows and asses and handlebars flying and crashing in the dirt. To my disappointment, I’d witnessed no deaths, or even hospitalizations. Still, I’d never seen any kid, no matter how old or cool, make it all the way down.
Suicide Hill was sheer fear, with a bump halfway down that launched anyone ballsy enough to try it into a near death experience. At the bottom stood an elm tree stump. Most kids bailed midair rather than become one with the tree.
Rule was no brakes, no skidding your feet. Full speed. I was eight or nine and I spent many a day atop Suicide Hill ginning up the courage to be the one to make it down intact.
Back then, if I thought about it at all, I thought courage was the absence of fear.
Now, close to fifty years later, now that I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, sustained concussions, and endured prolonged hospital stays, I know fearlessness is not always the presence of courage but of stupidity.
What’s the Function of Fear?
Does fear have a purpose, God-given?
Obviously, the fight or flight response is instinctive and protective. It is a function of the adrenal system designed to keep us alive. You’ve heard the old adage: the best way to survive a grizzly bear attack is to outrun, not the bear, but your buddy.
However, let’s not confuse adrenaline with courage or fear with cowardice.
I once saw a cartoon by Dan Piraro of “Bizarro” fame. It featured a heedless man walking down the street surrounded by disaster. He was protected by guardian angels and knew it. The angels above him were complaining how much safer life would be if he didn’t know they were flying just above his head.
Maybe that’s the role fear plays. It’s our on-board guardian angel. “Shields up,” it shouts, “Run!” Something besides cowardice told me to endure the name calling of my friends rather than risk the bump and stump of Suicide Hill that summer long ago. Conversely, several short summers later, I broke my leg braving the world’s first and worst zip-line (Click here for that story).
Fear Adds to Faith
Literal fearlessness does not require faith. This is the same idea behind forgetfulness not equalling forgiveness. If I can’t remember a wrong, I need not forgive. Just so, if I don’t sense risk or danger, no true courage or faith is required. People with the unfortunate disorder congenital analgesia, the inability to feel physical pain, have no concept of hot or cold and the danger either holds. Rushing into a fiery building to rescue someone–knowing what it could cost–calls for courage and faith not fearlessness.
Therefore, when I call faith an antidote to fear, I am not talking of an anesthetic. Rather faith helps us face our fears. Faith is reality based, eyes open to the danger.
It is almost as if it is a circle. I face my fears with faith and then my faith grows while my fear diminishes. Until I step into entirely new territory. Then fear starts the circle of developing faith again. Fear rightly viewed and applied can develop faith.
Back on Top of Suicide Hill
It took me all summer to finally give Suicide Hill a shot. And oh, how I wish I could tell you about fearlessly speeding from the top, hitting the bump half-way down, launching my sting ray into the wild blue, crossing my handle bars, the wind in my crew-cut, avoiding the stump, landing upright in a burst of dirt, and skidding to a stop just before hitting the stinky tad-pole pond. Applause, adulation, money!
Fact is I closed my eyes, hit the brakes, and dribbled off the trail and into the weeds, falling over. But I tried! Years later, after I had faced other death-defying dangers, I tried Suicide Hill again and ripped down that hill on my bike reaching the bottom with no problems. That day I sat at the bottom of Suicide Hill on my Schwinn ten-speed looking back up the hill that once dominated me. That day I swear Suicide Hill looked more mole hill than mountain and the mighty bump and gruesome stump mere provocateurs. I had been plenty scared. But no more. At least not of Suicide Hill. God, through my fear, had produced faith with which I could face the future.
Do you have a story of fear building your faith? Tell us about it.