on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Facing Fears


Looking up at the climb ahead.

A few months ago I participated in a Healthcare Leadership Academy retreat for about 20-25 leaders from the Health System where I work.  This was not a lecture day, but an experiential learning about leadership via a ropes course.

The goal of one of the exercises was to learn to push through the boundaries of your fears as a step to being a more effective leader.  “Face your fears head on and push through your personal boundaries,” was the main message.
Climb to the top of this pole (30 ft high), and when you get to the top, I want you to stand up on top  (18 inch diameter) and let go and put your hands out to your side.  Then jump.I stood before a telephone pole on the course that had small steel handles on each side.  The instructions were:

Did I mention I get a pit in my stomach and wobbly knees at such heights?

I stood at the bottom of the pole and looked up.  Our facilitator coached me.

“What are you feeling right now?” he asked.  “I’m afraid of heights,” I said with a nervous smile.

He responded, “That’s ok, you are not alone in that feeling.”

He continued, “What do you know that is absolutely true for you right now?”

I responded, “I know that these safety ropes will keep me safe even if I fall.”  “Exactly,” he said.

Now, start climbing and when you become afraid, remind yourself of the truth you know.”


Standing on top of the pole.

I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and I climbed the pole with my heart pounding.  After pushing through the fear of falling, I stood on the top with my hands out to my side as my teammates below cheered me on.

Today, I am keenly aware of that same pit in my stomach.  I will drive to Sewanee, TN and check into a dorm room at the Episcopal Seminary.  Over the next 3 and 1/2 days I will do what all persons do who want to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.  I will take “General Ordination Exams” keenly aware that I graduated from seminary over 30 years ago.  Seven tests, three and 1/2 hours each, over 3 and 1/2 days.  Twenty-one hours of testing.

How am I feeling?

I am afraid I will embarrass myself.  I may look foolish when my test results are in.  I may not measure up to my peers.


Relieved after pushing through the fear.

And so today I take a deep breath and acknowledge the truth I know:  This is a spiritual practice, a trust that all will be well even when I don’t feel that way.

My safety ropes are snug and tight around my waist. I am not alone in my fear.  No matter how I do on these tests, I will return to the job I love next Tuesday.

I grab the handle, look up, say a prayer, and take the next step to see what God might be up to in my life once again.  Prayers are welcome.

How do you deal with fear?  How have you overcome it?  I’d love to hear your story.


Below is a 10 minute slideshow from our Retreat (you can move the time bar to 7:40 to see a couple of pics before/after of my pole climbing experience)




  1. Malcolm Marler

    Two tests (six hours) down, 5 tests (fifteen hours) to go. That’s at least progress.

  2. Malcolm

    Four tests down (oops, I meant to say they are 3 and 1/2 hours each), and three to go. Over half way! Yippee!

  3. Malcolm

    Update: I did not do as well as I had hoped on the General Ordination Exams. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed. But humility is good for the soul.

    Thankfully, grace abounds in Alabama and I am thankful for the opportunity to move forward with ordination in May and December of 2013.

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