I like that I can pay my mortgage on my phone, buy stamps from my couch and have groceries delivered while I’m in my pajamas. However, I’m old enough to remember when those kinds of errands were often relegated to Saturdays. This was a weekly occurrence at my grandparents’ house and I often tagged along.
A trip to the bank was first because they weren’t open all day and there was no such thing as an ATM. Groceries came last, because there weren’t insulated bags in which to keep them safely chilled. There wasn’t a mall to go to, there was “downtown” where my grandma shopped.
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My grandpa and I would drop her off to happily shop at her leisure and then we’d entertain ourselves. We’d go to the nearby park (incidentally, the same park where he’d proposed to my grandmother decades earlier) or we’d make up games in the car or while walking around. Sometimes we’d go into one of the large department stores and ride the escalator up and down.
Tame activities, but at six or seven – and because I was with him – they were adventures. I remember standing at the bottom of the escalator, watching the steps roll up out of nowhere, one after the other, waiting for me to step on. I always hesitated, certain I’d get the timing of my first step wrong and fall onto the sharp metal stairs.
But once I took the first step, the fear evaporated, and I watched in awe while everything fell away and we glided toward the next floor. If I was feeling particularly brave, I’d close my eyes for a few seconds and experience the exhilaration multiplied. My anxiety soon returned as we neared the top and I wondered if I’d be able to step off without my foot getting mangled in the contraption.
At the bottom, there’s less urgency. Like stepping into a game of jump-rope, a subtle rocking back and forth motion helped provide the rhythm needed to sync with the rising steps. But at the top, ready or not, you’re getting off. Whatever step you’re on is guaranteed to disappear and deposit you onto a metal plate, and the floor of your destination.
Some Saturdays, my fear rose with every potential step. Those were the times when my grandpa would take my hand, count to three, and then we’d step on in unison. If I landed too close to the edge of the step, he was there to pull me up and at the top, I’d look up at him as the steps disappeared and when he said step, I took a giant leap until we were both on solid ground.
No matter how stressful it might’ve been to enter or exit the escalator, there was never any question about what came next.
We repeated the process.
Again, and again, he’d let me ride up and down as many times as I wanted. I’m not sure what the attraction was, but I know that his steadying presence was as important as the ride itself. He helped me literally walk up to a fear, and he waited to see what I’d do in the face of it. More times than not, I stepped out with pseudo-confidence and made it on my own. If my first step included a stumble, he waited for me to find my balance and reach for the handrails. (This was a deal-breaker rule for him.)
But in the back of my mind I always knew that should my experience include more than a stumble, he’d be there. Maybe his hand would find my back, or I’d feel his arm around me until I was stable.
The first trip up and down the escalator on those Saturdays was never as easy as the last. By the time he’d humored me with a few trips up and down, I felt confident enough to step up with less hesitation.
As an adult, steps still appear out of nowhere, but in different ways. There are decisions to make, paths to choose, even doors that need closing. As Christians, we’re supposed to walk by faith, not by sight but what does that mean when it’s time to take a new job or care for an aging parent?
How do I take the big, scary steps in front of me? The ones that have enormous potential for me to fall flat on my face?
The same way I took the smaller ones – with the confidence I gained by taking the first step, knowing that there was always a steadying presence beside me.
I love the promise in Matthew.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message says,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The unforced rhythms of grace.
Whether I’m rocking back and forth, mustering the courage to step onto an unknown path, or trying to keep up with the tempo of life’s chaos, I can reach for the handrails of God’s grace, and know that He is there every step of the ride.