I have only felt this way a few times in my life—just before getting married, in the days just prior to my first child being born, and just before standing before the 150 people for my trials of ordination. The interesting thing is that in every one of those cases I was hounded by a visceral fear even though I was entering a stage of life I desperately wanted and worked for.
I am going to call this “The Threshold”. It feels a little like that moment just before jumping off the diving board for the very first time. The only reason you would even do it is that the children who are already in the water look like they are having a rip-roaring blast of a time. Without the evidence of something good on the other end, only a rare type of child would make that jump from the security of a diving board into the belly of the whale—that churning, mysterious and potentially dangerous water.
If I didn’t know better I would think that the nervousness in my belly was trying to warn me of something. If I hadn’t already had the experience of crossing that threshold into the wonders of marriage, the delight of children, and the life that ordination has given me I would be tempted to call this whole thing off. “It was fun to play with the idea of this little 4000 mile bike ride,” I might say, “but now that the rubber is about to meet the road, I am discovering that this might be HARD!”
I have enough life experience now to tell me that the squeamishness in my belly is not a warning to run away. It is a reminder that I am about to cross into a new kind of life. I really don’t know what that life is going to be like. But, I recognize the feeling. A child can’t know how great it feels to jump into that water until he actually does it. He can see it on the faces of his friends, but until he musters up the courage to take that final step out beyond the board, all he knows is that he is abandoning the safety and security of the board for the water and its inherent risks. The same is true for marriage and the birth of children. We can’t know what it is like to be married or be a parent until we step over the line and cross the threshold. In the meantime, we sometimes get “cold feet”.
Fear is a funny thing. Sometimes the message is “run like hell”. And sometimes the message is “Go ahead and jump and know that life will never be the same.” The movement in my stomach tells me that I am at another threshold of life and discovery. No Pepto-Bismol can cure this. This is a call to trust.
What that’s I hear? “Go ahead and jump. The water is fine!”