Emotional Health: Falling Well

Written by Josiah Ng (Singapore)

"Josiah is a stay at home dad of 2 boys. He believes in using the power of stories to spread the love of Christ to others around him. He is currently an avid boulderer and uses the sport to teach his children biblical and life lessons about leaning on Jesus as the rock of our salvation. "

April 23, 2024

How would you deal with failures in your sport and in life?

I have a confession to make. 

If you would have told me a year ago that I would be writing for Kingdom Runners, I would have run away laughing till kingdom come. 

I was never athletic.
I have so many memories of coming in last during sports day events and getting trashed at different physical games that years later, thoughts of doing anything sports-related would induce an involuntary snort. 

Even in the Army, my fitness was considered rubbish.
For some reason, I was posted to the Commando unit and many would laugh that a “Commando couldn’t run.”
It was also in the military where I fell and hurt my spine (through no fault of anyone except my non-sporty self) and since then, I accepted that physical fitness was never my thing. 

And so it was, parenting became the only extreme sport I could do.
I became a full time stay-at-home dad years after my military service ended. 

But then something happened.
After enrolling my son for a bouldering class during the June holidays, I challenged myself to try the sport.
At first, I tried it so my son would be encouraged to keep an active lifestyle, one that I myself became fearful of because of past mental hurdles and physical injuries.
My identity had been formed by what I could not do, but I was resolved not to let it flow down to my next generation.  

The miracle was that I started solving boulder problems which some advanced climbers were doing.
Coaches even encouraged me to try competitions even though I was less than six months into the sport.
I cannot explain why this happened, and have wondered why God gave me this opportunity.
And why at this stage of my life?
I would have been saved so much embarrassment and shame if I was good at sports years ago.

I am reminded of Eric Liddell (Scottish Olympian, “The Flying Scotsman”), who said , “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”
I am in no way an Olympic contender, but I daresay that when I climb, I feel His pleasure. 

To some extent, climbing also gave me so much calm, clarity, and even peace amidst the day-to-day parenting challenges. 

The very first thing they teach you in climbing is to fall well.
It is not fancy moves, footwork, or drills…it’s falling.
They teach you to fall because you will fall. 

This brings me back to memories of my military service.
It is almost poetic that the very thing which handicapped me, falling from high places, is the very thing that I find a lot of healing in. 

In life, we all know that everyone falls at some point no matter how hard we try not to.
Maybe the point is not to stop yourself from falling, but to learn to fall well.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NKJV)

For me, as a believer, this means to fall into His loving arms, to fall in love with Him again, or as Fr. Richard Rohr puts it, to fall upwards. 

HOW DO YOU FALL WELL?

A Posture of Surrender

In bouldering, you fall when you let go, and keep your arms tucked into yourself.
Our first instinct when we fall is to do everything we can in our body to break the fall.
As we soon learn in bouldering, you should never reach out to break your fall (you may sprain your wrist) and you must not try to land on your feet (you may hurt your ankles).

You just let go and you trust.

This is the same with our relationship with God.
When you fall in parts of your life, do you first react by trying to fix your problems yourself, or do you immediately go to God and lay it all at His feet?

Are there moments in your life where you need to surrender and let go? 

A Peace That You Can Rise Again

Do you stay down after the fall?

I remember one bouldering session where I just kept falling and failed to finish routes that I projected would be very difficult for that day.
“How many times do I have to keep falling?” I complained in my heart.
I was growing anxious and so tired that I did not even want to get up one time.  

The Bible tells us in

“for though the righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again…”

Proverbs 24:16 (NKJV)

The righteousness found in you should serve as a confidence for you to stand up again despite the odds, calamities, and circumstances that you face.
This speaks of an intentional lifestyle that leads to a life that is pleasing to God. 

It is true there is nothing we can do that will be righteous enough, for we all fall short of the glory of Christ, but how amazing is it that Christ has made us right with God! 

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.

1 Corinthians 1:30 (NLT)

Through Christ and our faith in Him, we can hold peace in our heart that we will rise again after every fall. 
The fact that I fractured my spine and years later still can boulder at a level like I do is testament to this. 

Recognize Your Identity in Christ

The other day, my best friend mentioned to me as well, “Don’t forget, climbing is just a hobby.” 

My friend was absolutely correct, despite what God has done through it and how He has helped me excel in it. 

It is easy to start putting our identities into what we can do or what we are good at.
But what happens when you cannot do it anymore?
I have had those moments where I did not know who I was the moment I lost a certain capacity or ability to carry out what I thought I was made to do. 

However, that was never God’s design. The Bible tells us that we are children of God.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12 (NIV)

So even if I cannot climb anymore tomorrow, I am still His. 

And if I really have to stop climbing tomorrow, I know that I can continue to feel His pleasure despite it all.

Many of us won’t be able to know who we are until we know for certain whose we are

Prayer & Reflection

  • You may have past hurts and experienced failure in a sport that you participated in. Think about these but commit them to the Lord, recognizing that He was always with you when you went through these moments.
  • Imagine if you cannot run/climb/swim tomorrow. How would you feel? Submit, let go of those feelings, and declare your identity in Christ. 
  • Do you really know that you belong to God? Recommit yourself to God today and confess your discipleship in Him. He runs to you because God is a loving Father. 

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