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When the glass crackles

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By David Whitlock

He described it as “one of the craziest feeling(s) of my life.” It happened last week as Alejandro Garibay was standing on one of the glass boxes that extend out about four feet from the observation floor in the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) 103 stories above Chicago.

Garibay was posing for pictures with his brother and two of his cousins when the protective coating on the floor shattered, and the deck appeared to be cracking.

The spectacular view of the “Windy City” suddenly seemed life threatening.

But, you don’t have to be standing on crackling glass 103 stories above Chicago to have “one of the craziest feelings,” of your life, to believe life as you know it is in jeopardy.

Have you ever felt the protective coating of your existence shattering? Has the floor providing the steadiness for life’s journey ever appeared to be disintegrating?

If you have lived very many years, you know the feeling that particular fear brings.

It begins with tightness in the upper part of your abdomen, the solar plexus, and quickly moves to your heart, which begins beating more rapidly. Then you start breathing faster and your throat feels like someone is squeezing it with their fist.

You can be standing on a struggling marriage, or shaky finances, or an unstable job, or a conflicted relationship. And suddenly it happens.

We often try and hide our fear that the glass is shattering, for we think admitting it is itself an acknowledgement of failure, and we fear that, too.

Being known for who we really are frightens us, and so we play the cover-up game. “We all seem to keep a squirming bag of amorphous fears and dreads hidden in the attics of our lives,” observed health and fitness advocate Jared Fogle.

I once left one ministry for a position in another. Although I was blessed with a comfortable salary, I knew within a short time the job wasn’t right for me. Then I discovered there was a serious leadership crisis within the organization that threatened its financial stability. I believed the organization would collapse within six months to a year (which it did). 

Before that happened, I left that ministry to begin my own. My wife had fourth stage breast cancer, and I needed to give her and my children as much security as possible. I started substitute teaching, and I worked in a direct marketing organization as well, so I could keep the boat afloat while at the same time beginning the other ministry. I can assure you, it felt like the protective coating in my life was cracking on a fairly regular basis.

Here’s what I’ve learned about surviving when you find yourself thinking you are standing on crackling glass.

Keep your eye on the goal while doing the task at hand. When you feel overwhelmed, go back to your goals. (If you don’t have any goals, stating them is your first goal.) With your goals in focus, do what you have to do one day at a time. Bringing all your future “I have to” lists into your present will give you an acute case of the “I can’ts.” You risk the danger of locking up, hyperventilating emotionally.

So, secondly, tell yourself you can. Feeling like you have no control is depressing and immobilizing. Tell yourself (and I mean vocally, saying it with confidence), “I can do it.” I add the scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

And thirdly, remember that most of our fears exist only in the mind. I like this acrostic for fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. In reality, Mr. Garibay saw the protective coating on the glass breaking and not the glass itself.

That’s a classic case of false evidence appearing real. As author Christian Bovee said, “Half our fears are baseless; the other half discreditable.”

Alejandro Garibay made it safely back into the observation floor. Building spokesman Bill Utter said the coating protects the glass so visitors have a clear view 1,353 feet to the ground. “At no time was the integrity of the Ledge in doubt.”

Tourists were back on the Ledge the next morning. And they got to see the view.

Getting back on the ledge of life can be frightening, but just as you have to go out on a limb to get the fruit, you won’t grow without venturing back onto the ledge.

Seeing the protective coating crackle doesn’t mean you have to crumble.

Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.