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Why my acrophobia is a good thing

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Two telecommunications workers stand in lift basket, elevated by hydraulic crane, as they perform maintenance to an antenna on a cell phone tower (Credit: fotografiche via iStockphoto)

Yesterday I was driving up the Dallas North Tollway when I passed a man on a crane working on a cell phone tower.  He must have been 100 feet in the air, standing in a small basket on the end of a telescoping metal arm.  As I drove by, I thanked God that he had not called me to that job.

Since I can remember, I have always hated heights.  My problem is called “acrophobia.”  It causes me to choose aisle seats on airplanes and read the entire time while pretending to be on the ground.  It makes me uncomfortable when riding in a glass elevator or eating in a skyscraper’s restaurant.  It’s not disabling—I still get on the airplane and finish my lunch—but it’s definitely real.

One website tells me I should use logic to defuse my fear.  For instance, the odds of being involved in a fatal airplane crash are as low as one in 20 million.  I am encouraged to do an intense workout before doing something that will trigger my fear of heights.  I should then expose myself gradually to my fear, perhaps by reading or studying on a second-floor balcony, then riding on a Ferris wheel, and so on.  Ultimately, I’m told that I might need to consider therapy.

Here’s why I’m not going to do any of the above: my acrophobia has been a good thing.  It’s helped me do more reading on airplanes than the normal person, and focus on the person with whom I’m having lunch rather than the view outside our 48th-floor window.  It’s not kept me from doing anything I need to do.

In fact, God uses my fear of heights to remind me of the fragility of life and importance of relying on his protection.  Someone without acrophobia might think that their air travel is immune to disaster, but I know better.  The psalmist promised, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).  I know how much I need to dwell in his shelter to abide in his shadow.

What fears are part of your life?  You may love heights and enjoy airplane window seats, but something or someone causes you to feel afraid today.  Name your fear, and give it specifically and consciously to God.  Ask him either to remove it or to redeem it.  And know that he will.

Henri Nouwen spoke movingly of “wounded healers,” Christians who are transparent about their pain and the ways God has helped them.  Such examples are powerfully persuasive in our jaded, skeptical culture.  So tell those you influence about the ways God is healing or using your fears.  And know that your honesty will glorify your Father and lead others to him.

One day, there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4).  In that day, acrophobia will be a thing of the past.  In the meantime, I thank God for the ways he removes or redeems the fears we face.  Will you join me?