The Master Belayer


belay [bih-ley]
to secure (a rope) by attaching to a person or to an object offering stable support.
“Belay.” Def. 2b. Web. 2 Sep 2010.

In my last post (“The Crux“), I shared a story based on an afternoon of Colorado rock climbing with my two boys. I couldn’t help but think of how that experience (and rock climbing in general) parallels our own lives.

From an early age, we feel destined to conquer the world, make our dreams come true. (cue the Laverne and Shirley theme song) What did you dream about as a child? Who did you pretend to be?

But then, we grew up. Maybe we reached a goal here or realized a small dream there, or maybe none of the above. Life threw us curveballs–sometimes all at once. Sooner than expected, we faced a crux on the route.

After surveying the options, we decided to give up. Maybe a circumstance beyond our control made it impossible to continue, so we turned back. I’ve often found, however, that many of those circumstances were surmountable if we’d had someone to guide us around them.

If given the choice to free climb a 5-foot wall–no safety rope, no belayer–would you do it? Sure, why not. A fall from a few feet might bruise you, but that’s about it. What about a 10-foot wall? Maybe. What about 20 feet? 40 feet? 100 feet? As the stakes get higher, the view gets better but we’re less likely to consider the risk without safety equipment.

We do the same thing when it comes to our goals and dreams. We only set out to reach the top if the risk is low and success is guaranteed, where a fall will only bruise our ego or cost a small fraction of our checkbook balance.

And why? Because in the past we’ve fallen, either by our own failures or the failures of others (usually both). We’ve made up our minds never again to fail, never again to look embarrassed, never again to get hurt. Even years later, the pain is fresh; it’s hard to forget.

When you reached a point in life that was too hard, would it have made a difference if you had a belayer to manage the rope from below, shouting encouragement and guidance to “move left a little” or “reach higher to your right,” someone who understood your predicament and could talk you through it? Would you have kept fighting to reach the top?

Up on the rock face, we surrender the control exercised on the ground. We give up the comfort of 2-dimensional living. Negotiating a vertical crux requires a skilled belayer.

Like it or not, every day is another day on a mysterious journey. We’re walking a path, and we don’t know when the end will come. We’re climbing a mountain, and we don’t know what problems lie ahead–false summits riddle the horizon. Who do you turn to for guidance when the unexpected happens? When you reach the crux?

A good belayer watches his climber without interruption, which means the belayer must see the entire route. I’ve found that family and friends can be a tremendous encouragement through life’s difficulties, but sometimes they can’t see the route from beginning to end. I know of only One who can–a Master Belayer, if you will.

Choosing God to hold the rope was pretty easy; I just asked. But learning to trust His voice was another story, one that didn’t happen over night. And by “voice” I don’t mean hearing God audibly or kicking back scotch and a cigar with George Burns (see the “Oh, God!” trailer), although that would be kinda cool.

Just like in real rock climbing, we need to learn how to communicate with the Master Belayer so we can reach our potential, and great is that potential in each of us. A belayer is there to help, not hinder, to protect, not harm–and God is no exception to that rule. We can learn to hear and trust His voice.

For me, discovering His voice starts with reading the Bible, and having the courage to ask questions and model its words. And again like real climbing, the more time you spend doing it the less awkward it feels. You’ll learn a lot about who God is (and equally who He is not), and even more about yourself.

Whether scaling a rock wall or climbing through real life circumstances, both can become matters of life or death. I find comfort knowing that I’m not on a free climb, and if you think about it, “free” climbing is not so free. You have no rope and belayer–a fall will either cripple or kill you. What you can accomplish on a free climb is actually limited; second chances are rare. There are moves you would never attempt on a free climb because of the risk. That’s not freedom, it’s lunacy. Why go it alone?

With a belayer, you are truly free to attempt any move, no matter how difficult, because your belayer will catch your fall. I find immense comfort knowing that I have a Master Belayer watching my every move through life and catching every fall.

Falling with a belayer still jerks your body and might slam you into the wall, but the key is you can pause to catch your breath and keep going. How far you fall and how hard depends on your belayer and how well you two communicate–the latter is critical.

So who’s got your rope today?

3 thoughts on “The Master Belayer

  1. Thanks, Susan. Glad you enjoyed the post. There are always gold nuggets to be found in everything we do, aren’t there?And Sarah, I love you, too! I’m kinda partial to you as a reader since you’re the love of my life. 😉


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