> Holidays > The High Holidays > Elul > Inspiration

My Personal Rope Challenge

September 4, 2014 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Despite the intense fear, I yearned to know that I could climb beyond my limits.

We stood at the entrance to the outdoor adventure park and gazed up at the towering trees and the mazes of ropes weaving between them. There were several different levels of rope climbing courses within the park, but we were all required to try the easy course first. After I finished it, I asked one of the park staff members if I could try the advanced course.

"I don't think you want to do that. It's really tough. See that group of guys over there. They only got through the first two parts before we had to get them down from the top of that tree. If you can't get through, you have to repel down and it's really far up."

"I want to to give it a try," I said as I looked up at the endless ladder disappearing into the treetops.

I stared up into the treetops and felt the yearning to know that I could climb beyond my limits.

"Look, you can do it but half the people who try can't finish it. And there is a 65-foot jump from a tree at the end." He looked doubtfully at me with my long skirt, and my five children clustered behind me like a cheerleading squad. But I decided to shake off his warnings. The course looked scary, but it wasn’t dangerous. I would be wearing a safety harness the whole time. I stared up into the treetops and felt the yearning to know that I could climb beyond my limits and find the courage to begin a course whose end I couldn’t yet see.

So I hooked my safety harness onto the first hoop and began. I'll think about the 65-foot jump when I get there, I told myself. Right now I'm just going to focus on my next step.

But the next step was terrifying. As soon as I reached the top of the ladder and began the first rope crossing, I saw why most people gave up. There was nowhere to stand, nothing stable to land upon, no way to get through. The course was insane; thin wires to cross with nothing to hold onto, logs that shifted and slid precariously beneath your feet, zip lines that you had to make a running jump onto in order to catch them.

My climbing began to turn from mild fear to panic as I stared at the thin wire beneath my feet and the hundred-foot drop yawning below me like an endless chasm. On one tiny disc that I was supposed to balance upon, I fell and found myself dangling in midair, reaching desperately for a rope, for a way to pull myself back up.

I failed and fell back. I reached again and the rope slipped out of my hand. I grabbed onto the end of a rope again and found strength that I didn’t know I had. Slowly, I pulled myself to the next platform.

“Yo, how you doing up there?” One of the staff members stood a hundred feet below me, shielding his eyes from the mid-day sun. “You haven’t gotten to the hard part yet, but you got further than most people.”

The sweat was pouring down my face. My hands burned from the ropes. But I didn’t want to go further than most people. I wanted to finish. I didn’t want to stop at: It’s just my personality. It’s too hard to change. Too uncomfortable. Too risky. Making my way through the black diamond rope course, I realized that all of that just wasn’t true. I could change. I could take risks, fall and begin again. It wasn't dangerous. It was just hard.

I talked to myself up there in the treetops. Don’t give up. With God’s help, you can do hard things. The worst that can happen is you lose your balance. Then you pull yourself back up. You find a way to get back on course. My feet ached. My hands burned. The sun beat down upon my shoulders. I couldn't see a way to get to the next platform, and I was stuck in midair again. Keep pulling, I told myself. Keep grabbing for the next rope. You can do this.

And I did. Finally, I got to that last platform where the 65-foot jump stretched out below me like a boundless abyss. I was almost finished but now I wasn’t sure I could do it. It’s one thing to walk along shaky wires and wobbling pieces of wood, and it’s something else entirely to free fall off of a tree with nothing but yourself to hold onto.

I looked down at the ground; it was so far away. I looked up at the two metal rings that held the safety harness onto the wire above me and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Maybe it was time to give up. But then I looked back behind me at all the ropes I had climbed through, all the hurdles I had overcome to get to this point. And I just couldn’t turn back. I was going to have to do it. I was going to jump.

I stepped off the platform. For a split second I thought I might fall forever. That the aching sensation of having no ground beneath me and nothing to grasp onto would go on and on. But instead I began to fly. The wire pulled me up, and I flew way beyond who I thought I could be.

“Yo, I can’t believe you did it!” A small cluster of the rope course staff stood by the landing, and beyond them stood my children. My life. The expanding contours of my potential. And a new rock-hard certainty within me that with the Almighty’s help I could pull myself back up when I fell even if I had to spend some time dangling in midair. I unhooked myself from the metal rings and looked back up at the treacherous course above me.

“I can’t believe it either,” I said. Gazing down at the rope burns on my hands, I thought. God, thank You for teaching me how to reach, how to climb, how to jump. Thank You for bringing me to the black diamond ropes so that I would remember how to begin again.

Elul Rope Challenge

In this month of Elul we are preparing for Rosh Hashanah, and the process of growth often involves falling off course. It’s hard to change. Hard to face harmful habits that keep knocking us down over and over again when it looks like there is nothing to grab onto and we are stuck in mid-air. But it’s the pulling back up when we don’t know how we’ll make it to the next step that makes us stronger and brings us to the place within us where we can fly past yesterday’s limits.

See each fall for what it really is: An opportunity to get back up.

Here are three ways to begin again:

1. Coach yourself. When you get stuck or lose your way, have inspiring quotes written down or better yet memorized so that you can pull yourself back up. Learn how to talk to yourself when you are battling with your own limits. It also helps to remind yourself of a time when you overcame something that was challenging. Tell yourself that you have done hard things in life before, and you can do them again. That sometimes it’s scary to risk failure but it’s not dangerous.

2. Ask for help. When you don’t know how to get past your physical and spiritual obstacles, ask God for help. We need to climb onto the ladder, but He gives us the strength to go up it. When you know that you are in that place where you can no longer find another rope to grasp onto, when there is nowhere left to stand and it looks like there is no way through, ask the Almighty to show you what to do. To give you courage. To open your eyes. To give you that extra push off the final jump.

3. Re-frame failure. See each fall for what it really is: An opportunity to get back up. Every time that you slip and lose your balance, you have a new chance to find a different way to climb. People who succeed are willing to do the things that people who give up don’t want to do. They’re willing to fall. To get rope burns on their hands. To have their feet ache and the sweat pour down their faces. And they’re willing to keep going until they can fly.

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