My daughter loves elephants. She always has—so we often find ourselves watching elephant documentaries. Recently, we watched one that took place during a drought, and the elephants were struggling to find water. The matriarch had to decide: Would she lead her family down a 400-foot cliff face to find water? Or would she have them skip the perilous descent and risk dehydration and death?
The choice seemed like a few that I am currently facing. Should I attempt the cliff and do this very hard, near-impossible thing? Or do I accept the inevitable suffering that will come if I take the other option? Maybe you too are called to something that feels like it is too much, like disclosing abuse, moving toward a difficult person, confronting a family member’s addiction, or letting someone know they are hurting you. The pathways the Lord places before us can feel like this. There are dangers, not just physical but relational ones. And there are risks, ones my risk-averse self resists taking.
So, as I sat there watching, I was captured by what happened next. The matriarch made her choice. It was time to descend. Thirty elephants began to trudge downward cautiously.
As I watched, I feared for them. Scenes from my own life flooded my mind. There was no turning back. Every step was onto unsure ground. The elephants used their trunks to feel and assess whether the terrain ahead was stable. I saw myself in this too, wanting to know before I continue to go where God has asked me to go, "Will I be okay?"
Then the camera zoomed in on the baby elephants. I deeply identified with their plight. They were fumbling and frightened and needed encouragement to keep going. As they headed down, the mothers couldn't turn around to reassure them. The terrain did not allow them to be face-to-face, entwining their trunks around their infants and comforting them like they typically would.
Again, another connection struck me. Like I often do, the babies began to resist the path ahead. But their hesitation and desire to turn around only put them in more danger. This is true for us as well. When we are heading towards confrontation, pronounced sacrificial love, and things that are scary or burdensome, we understand the Israelite’s desire to turn around and return to the slavery they knew versus face the unknown challenges ahead. We feel the tension between obeying the Lord’s calling on our lives and wanting to avoid what feels like heading toward personal peril. As we move forward on the path the Lord places before us, we are often afraid and resist.
Thankfully, the Lord knows our hearts and provides for our fears. Perhaps this is one reason why Paul tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We need help remembering that it is safe to move forward—not because we feel sure-footed on the path, but because God shows himself trustworthy. Paul is not urging us to be fearful but rather awestruck by what God is up to and to trust him for whatever that is. Without a doubt, we will need his help to change our focus away from our fears and onto his faithfulness. And it is his delight to do so.
What did the mother elephants do when their children resisted? They used their tails to keep in contact with them. With quick, reassuring taps, they provided comfort through touch. Each swish of the tail communicated, "I am here with you. It's okay, keep coming." And there it was, a concrete picture of Jesus' care for me.
Jesus may not be able to look me in the eye like he did his fear-filled disciples and say, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (Mark 6:50). But Jesus nonetheless touches my heart. In moments of fear, he breaks in. He brings to my mind verses of his faithfulness and his sweet promises wrapped in song lyrics.
I began to remember how often these touches of grace appear when I am overwhelmed. How many times have reassuring taps from the Spirit blessed me when fear was rising? Countless times in countless ways, the Lord has reminded me that he is with me: “I will not let your foot slip,” “I go before you,” “I will hold your hand,” and “I will never leave you” are just a few. He knows what is ahead and promises to provide for our journeys, even if they are filled with peril. So, I take courage and go with him.