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Keeping your balance on life's tightropes

A Christian Science perspective: Nik Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls may have lessons for walking life’s less dramatic tightropes.

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In the breathtaking vastness of Niagara Falls, a lone figure moves slowly but surely along what seems to be a pencil-thin path, suspended high above the raging waters below. Holding a long pole horizontally for balance, this solitary adventurer places one foot in front of the other with tremendous concentration as he pursues his goal: to get to the other side.

Despite the commercial hoopla and sensationalism surrounding the event, this is what the high-wire artist Nik Wallenda did last Friday night in his walk across the 1,800-foot span over Niagara Falls, held above the foaming waters only by a two-inch-wide cable, skill and confidence developed over many years, and a single-minded courageous focus, closely allied to faith.

Are there spiritual lessons to be learned from such a daring event that perhaps can be applied in more ordinary circumstances? Mary Baker Eddy, the author of the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” thought there were. In her era, a French acrobat named Jean François Blondin first walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls in 1859. The event attracted a great deal of attention at the time, and Blondin’s name became synonymous with courage.

Mrs. Eddy saw Blondin’s achievement in these terms: “Had Blondin believed it impossible to walk the rope over Niagara’s abyss of waters, he could never have done it. His belief that he could do it gave his thought-forces, called muscles, their flexibility and power which the unscientific might attribute to a lubricating oil. His fear must have disappeared before his power of putting resolve into action could appear” (Science and Health, p. 199).

Obviously Blondin’s and Mr. Wallenda’s feats belong to the category of the unusual and incredible. But there is much of value that can be inferred from what their accomplishments represent.

Though Wallenda agreed to wear a safety harness at the insistence of broadcasters, his accomplishment is undiminished by that concession. Wallenda regarded walking the tightrope with a tether as more difficult than without it.

Blondin apparently had his own kind of safety net: his total fearlessness and conviction that he could perform the feat. Eddy offers an explanation: “The feats of the gymnast prove that latent mental fears are subdued by him. The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible. Exceptions only confirm this rule, proving that failure is occasioned by a too feeble faith” (Science and Health, p. 199).

How many times are we in the middle of a task or working out a problem when doubt in our ability tries to come in, causing our faith to feel a little “feeble”? Maybe we’re tempted to stop trying so hard or give up completely – a mental posture that’s not a realistic option when you’re halfway across Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

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At times like these, I find it helpful to consider where our faith can most reliably reside. Is our only option to have faith in just ourselves – whatever talents, strengths, and abilities we might have? Or can we put our faith in something more?

The Bible assures us that whatever challenge or endeavor lies in front of us, it is God, the source and giver of all ability and strength, that is the power in which we can and should have confidence. The book of Proverbs tells us, “The Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken” (3:26). Human abilities are finite and fallible; God is infinite and worthy of our trust.

The journey through life may sometimes seem like a challenging trajectory through which we need the spiritual equivalent of a balancing pole to keep our poise and equilibrium. We can know that if we’re sincerely trying to tread a straight and narrow way, we needn’t fear falling, for God will uphold us. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee:... I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

So if we feel we’re on a kind of tightrope over frightening physical symptoms, financial circumstances that appear to be beyond redemption, or the tumult of a difficult relationship, God is with us, strengthening, guiding, and making sure that we can keep our balance, and get to the other side.

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