One summer afternoon during my young preschool years, I spent a few hours playing at my friend’s house. Adam Holzworth was the same age as me, and we were probably best friends, as those things go when you are four. Though not in a direct sight line, the Holzworth’s front door was little more than a stone’s throw from my back yard, and on this particular occasion my mother allowed me to walk unaccompanied through the open lot behind our house and across the quiet cul-de-sac to play with Adam. Adam took me right down to his basement to play with his father’s old wheelchair. We took turns rolling around on the unfinished concrete floor, imagining how wonderful it would be to be able to ride on wheels everywhere we went. Soon, we grew tired of our medical plaything and went back upstairs clamoring for lunch. Adam’s mother made us bologna and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread - a delicacy unheard of in my house - and we sat down to watch Dr. Rick Marshall fend off the other-dimensional, prehistoric terrors in Land of the Lost.
Before long it was time for me to return home and I began the perilous journey across the small plot of grass separating me from the safety of my own yard. I headed straight for my house, but was soon interrupted by something that terrified me more than dinosaurs or Sleestak: a honey bee. To my memory, this was the first time I had ever encountered a bee by myself. I froze in my tracks and tried not to move, limiting my breathing and refusing even to blink. The bee was interested in me, which was terrifying. It hovered around eye-level, sizing me up, as he darted from side to side. He would roll quickly to the left and pause momentarily near my right ear, just inside my periphery so that I could not pretend he was gone. Then, just as quickly, he would reverse course and roll back around to my twelve o’clock, directly blocking my path home.
Though I had never actually been stung by a bee, I imagined any experience involving a poisonous puncture from an aggressive winged creature to be horrifying. I knew even then I hated anything with a detachable butt. Fortunately, I didn’t panic and was able to bring to mind with great clarity the sage advice from my own mother. “If you ever see a bee, just stand as still as statue and it will leave you alone.”
Still as a statue. That’s all I had to do. Stand still as a statue and the bee will leave me alone. Still as a statue. Still as a statue. I’m in no hurry. I can wait here all day until he leaves. Still as a statue.
I stood in the field, glancing longingly at my house sitting peacefully just beyond my reach, reciting that mantra over and over in my head. So far, it was working. Though the bee had not yet shown any signs of actually flying away, neither had it tried to harm me. All I could do was wait and listen to the ominous buzzing fade in and out as the bee swirled around my head. Suddenly, however, I became aware of another sound off in the distance, a rhythmic thumping. For the first time since the flying demon appeared, I dared to take my eyes of it, searching for the cause of this new disruption. Tha-THUMP. Tha-THUMP. Tha-THUMP. The noise was coming from State Street, the road on which our house sat. Though it was fewer than 100 yards away, my view of the road itself was blocked by my own house, our garage, and the surrounding trees. I searched the horizon, but nothing in my line of vision was moving, save the bee. I certainly couldn’t remember hearing such a noise before. Yet the Tha-THUMPing continued, and my mind raced to imagine what could possibly be making the sound. It continued steadily. Tha-THUMP. Tha-THUMP. Tha-THUMP.
My young mind raced to make sense of it, trying to put a visual to the sound. Whatever was causing it was not far away, and thus was cause for concern. Something hard and heavy was pounding the road in front of my house, and it only seemed to be getting louder and closer. Had I not already been standing motionless, my next thought would have filled me with enough terror to paralyze me. The source of the Tha-THUMPing suddenly took shape in my imagination. Moving slowly up the hill, a giant must be approaching. With every slow, massive step this giant took up the street, he pounded the concrete with his hefty wooden club. Tha-Thump. Tha-THUMP. His intentions were unclear to me; why he approached my house didn’t matter as much as the fact that he was approaching. Having not yet read Roald Dahl, I certainly was not aware of any friendly giants. I had no proof or visual verification of my theory, but my mind had already filled in the blanks: in a matter of moments a giant would smash my head in.
Suddenly I found myself facing a decision that no four-year-old should ever have to encounter. I could stay where I was, still as statue in the open field so as to avoid antagonizing the buzzing menace still hovering around my head. Doing so, however, left me completely vulnerable to the oncoming giant and his weapon of blunt destruction. The only way to escape the wrath of the primitive giant was to get to the safety of my house, which meant breaking my statuesque stance and risking a bee sting. I agonized over the decision, unsure how I could make it out of this predicament without some kind of bodily harm. As the Tha-THUMPing continued, it seemed to me the unseen terrors were far worse than the ones in plain sight. Resolved, I prepared myself for what needed to be done.
In an instant I was off at a full sprint. Without looking back to see if the bee gave chase, I tore out of the field towards my house. In no time I was running past the old tree stump at the back of my property, down the stone walkway along our garage, and leaping in a single bound the two steps leading into our laundry room at the back of the house. Slamming the door behind me, I listened. I could hear no Tha-THUMPing. I checked glanced up and down my arms and felt the back of my neck. No signs of a bee sting.
I often find myself having conversations with people who feel like they are paralyzed in a particular situation. While this is often job-related, the dilemma can arise just as easily in any area of relationships, parenting, faith, or passion. Inevitably, most of us reach a tipping point where a decision has to be made. Choose to go all in on that dream; apply for that new job; have a hard, honest conversation with that loved one; commit to that area of personal development; give away that resource. Or, stay where we are. Play it safe. Take the hits and roll with the punches. Settle.
I’m not suggesting that the answer to discontent is always to fly the coop and start over somewhere else. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Often the greatest rewards are found in longevity, perseverance, loyalty, and faithfulness. Yet I’m convinced most of us come to a place and a time where we know something needs to change, either with ourselves or with our situation. We know there is more to life, more to our own gifts and passions and callings, than we are currently experiencing. And perhaps the greatest prohibitor to stepping into change - of any kind - is fear of the unknown. Our minds are wonderful at dreaming up the worst possible scenarios. The giants we imagine in our heads are far more menacing than the reality in front of us. Though not ideal and possibly even painful or unhealthy, we would prefer to stick within the comfort of the visible mediocrity rather than risk a bold new move. We let imaginary fears drive our decision making. Inaction becomes our action.
At various times in my life I have either chased giants or run from them. Those times when uncertainty got the best of me are lost in the oblivion of mundane memories. I’ll never know how those chances could have worked out because I didn’t take them. On the other hand, there were times when the beasts loomed large in the vast unknowns of future and possibility, and I stared them down, choosing to step towards those undefined fears rather than away. Every time I made a bold new move in my life, whether personally, spiritually, or professionally, things got exciting, difficult, and wonderful. No risk ever worked out perfectly, but every risk was worth it. Those are the moments and decisions that have shaped my life in beautiful and unpredictable ways.
What dream or desire is lingering in your heart right now? What would it take for you to stare down the giants of your own fear or doubt and take a bold step towards fulfilling that dream?