Last week I made the trek to visit my niece and nephews in Oregon. Piper, the oldest, turned 5 years old not too long ago and much like I was at her age, she’s fearless.
One afternoon, we were playing the infamous airplane game, in which I lay on my back and balance Piper on my feet while she “flies.” I was holding onto her hands to keep her from losing balance and falling when she looked down at me and said, “Aunt Cadence, don’t hold my hand! I like scary things.”
I slowly let go of her tiny fingers.
I watched as she balanced herself without holding on and giggled with satisfaction. But I mostly couldn’t stop thinking about how courageous her spirit was, how foreign the words I like scary things sounded and felt.
When I thought about it later, I realized a younger me would have used the phrase “I like scary things” too. I remember rushing into the house after school to watch episodes of Are You Afraid Of The Dark? when I was 6 years old, high off the thrill of watching ghost stories rated for a “Y7” audience. I’d whiz through Goosebumps and Nancy Drew novels, climb tall trees and high dive from pools like there was no tomorrow.
I liked scary things too.
But the older I’ve gotten, the more familiar phrases like “play it safe” or “don’t get too crazy” or “wait for the right time” have become instead. I’ve let my fears, much like I did with Piper, instruct me to hold onto things even when I know I can balance without them.
So I’ve found avoiding scary things doesn’t help me grow—it limits me. When I’m avoiding taking risks in life, whether small or big, it’s a good indication I’m trying to maintain a false sense of control. It’s a good indication I’m more scared about what could go wrong than hopeful about what could go right.
And scary can be fun if we’re hopeful.
I never once saw an Are You Afraid Of The Dark? episode that didn’t end happily. Part of the fun in watching was having hope that things would work out—that the viewer journey I’d embarked on would turn out not to be as scary as it’d seemed in the beginning.
When we’re more interested in trying to control outcomes rather than experience a hopeful journey, we keep a tight grip on the safety bar of our roller coaster lives. And consequently, we miss out on the fun of putting our arms up in the air.
My niece is insatiably curious, spending hours in suspenseful fiction or climbing hills in her backyard looking for bugs. And her willingness to face scary things only makes her more joyful about what she finds and gets to share. She lives with both her arms up in the air, confirming this truth:
So is it worth gripping the safety bar?
Is it really worth losing our sense of wonder and awe for a false sense of security?
I know the easy argument here is that Piper is a five year old in a loving family who likely hasn’t had her heart broken or gotten the bad end of business deal yet. And taking risks, of course, is more intimidating the older we get. We have complex factors to consider and have probably been knocked down a time or 10—but I think that would be a terrible reason to shrink back from life.
Do we really want to let our worries and wounds be steering us? Do we really want to go through life wondering “what if” instead of telling stories that start with “but then…”?
Risks may set us back at times.
Quit the job, move to the city you think of most, tell that one person how you feel about them, share your idea or your art—do the scary thing you’re tempted to keep putting off.
I bet if we started approaching our dreams more like fearless five year olds, we’d experience more of heaven than we ever knew possible on earth (Mat 18:3). Let’s let go of our safety bars and live with our arms up in the air.