This is a tale about Janice, fear and Curtis. Actually, I don’t know the kid’s name, but for the sake of the story I’m going to call him Curtis because, well, he looks like a Curtis.
Here’s the scene: Janice and Curtis have come to what appears to be some sort of carnival and are about to take a spin on one of the rides. Once the two are safely strapped into the ride, Janice begins to settle in and give Curtis some pointers on how to sit, while Curtis attempts to get the off-camera carny to reassure him that he won’t fall out. “Are you sure I won’t fall out? No chance! NO chance!?”The ride begins to wind up and Curtis nervously greets the camera facing him, visibly unsure of exactly what Janice has talked him into. Then 3… 2… 1… BAM! Off it goes, and Janice and Curtis go hurling through the air at lightning (but not really) speed. A mere 5 seconds into the ride, they are upside down when all of a sudden…
Out of nowhere and without warning, Curtis’ worst nightmare comes true! He finds himself dangling, still caught and held in by the harness but no less dangling, from this carnivorous, blood-thirsty beast of a carnival ride as it flings him about like a rag doll! Now, that’s not exactly what was happening, but I’m sure that’s how it probably felt.
And then comes… the screaming.
“Help me! No! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it, Janice! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
You get the idea.
Clearly unmoved by his distress, perhaps unable to hear his cries for help over her own LAUGHTER (WHAT?!?!), Curtis persists, intent on making sure Janice is aware of his situation.
“Janice! I’ve fallen! Janice! I’ve fallen!” Curtis shouts, clearly not amused by her refusal to intervene in his emergency, or at the very least acknowledge his plight! Finally, she does. She places her hand on his arm and, through increasingly escalating laughter, she assures him “you’re gonna be ok!”
Talk is cheap and Curtis knows it! Janice may have her hand on his arm, but she is now howling with laughter. Not cool, Janice. Not cool. Perhaps Curtis needs to remind her of the gravity of the situation (see what I did there?).
“I’m stuck! Help me! Janice, I’m stuck! This hurts! This hurts! This hurts!” Curtis’ campaign for carnival ride liberation continues as they are lowered back to the ground, the ride clearly about to end.
“Janice, it ain’t funny!”, declares Curtis as the ride lands safely back on terra firma. All the while Janice continues to be lost in her laugher and oblivious to his distress. Just a little over a minute later than it began, the ride has ended and Janice and Curtis are free.
Though momentarily bound together by the sheer terror of the carnival ride’s g-force, they, in fact, had 2 very different experiences. Curtis was terrified, no doubt in the midst of his demise, certain he had enjoyed his last funnel cake. Janice, however, was soaking it in, equally lost in the helplessness of the moment but reveling in the endorphin explosion.
Now, I don’t personally know Janice or Curtis, so of course I don’t know this for certain, but something tells me this isn’t the first time Janice has been on this ride. Sure she was aware that Curtis was experiencing some discomfort, a word Curtis would probably not be a fan of if asked. But she knew the harnesses were there for a reason and they worked. She knew that in less than 60 seconds, this would all be over and Curtis would have a whale of a story for his counselor one day.
Have you ever felt like Curtis? Helpless. Flying through the air at great speed with no apparent external regard for your well-being. Hurting. Unsure. Terrified. Stuck. Afraid. Certain this will never end. Sure you have. We all have. Ever find yourself telling God, “Stop it! This hurts! I’m stuck!” I know I have.
But let me ask you this. Have you ever felt like Janice? Experiencing the same thing Curtis was, but soaring though it with the knowledge that you were about to land, and everything was going to be ok. That right now was not forever. Her heart was racing, but her confidence was grounded in a knowledge Curtis didn’t have.
And feel it? Of course she feels it! Helpless and out of control. I’m sure she felt everything Curtis was feeling, and at one time probably felt them more. She’s not impervious, but she is informed. And she also knows something that Curtis didn’t…
It’s all about perspective.
It reminds me a lot of 2 Corinthians 4:8
“We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, not abandoned; struck down, not destroyed.”
This verse is at once, an exercise in examining extremes. In this verse, Paul isn’t saying to deny the present state of your reality. He said “we ARE hard-pressed”. That’s a statement of fact. But it’s not necessarily the truth. He just didn’t want you to get so stuck in your present reality that you forget the truth. He said, “sure, feel it, but don’t forget THIS. I know you are hard-pressed, but the truth is you are not crushed. Struck down? Sure. Destroyed? No.”
I feel hard-pressed on every side, but I know I’m not crushed. I feel perplexed, but I know I’m not in despair. I may feel persecuted, but I know I’m not abandoned. Sometimes life leaves you hanging onto the comma between those 2 realities and you have to choose which one you’re going to cling to. Curtis saw, but Janice knew. If fear can keep your eyes on what you see and your heart consumed with how you feel, it keeps you from knowing the truth. Janice knows that fear is a punk.
Curtis was at the end of his rope… hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. But Janice lived on the other side of the comma. She knew that while those were the emotions and reality of Curtis’ experience, the truth is he was not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned and certainly not destroyed. Living on the other side of the comma means grasping what you know despite how you feel.
My friend Ben Arment once said that fear diminishes with repeated exposure. I doubt Janice has ever heard Ben say those words, but she already knows. Oh, how she knows. Do you?