Belly Flops: A Fear of Heights

by MitchellRichards

In 1999, my power tumbling team put on an exhibition with the US Olympic Diving team. We were doing our tumbling, trampoline, and double-mini trampoline routines, and they were doing their diving performances. It was a really cool experience and we actually got to spend a lot of time with them. They played around on our trampolines and they gave us some tips on diving. I even jumped off the 10-meter platform that tested my fear of heights. One of the divers we were performing with actually ended up winning the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In between two of our exhibitions, I was talking with one of the male divers, his name unfortunately escapes me, and I asked him if he ever got scared of jumping off of the 33-foot (10-meter) platform into water, which can feel like concrete if you hit it the wrong way. I expected him to say that every once in a while he would be scared, but he told me that if you go up to the platform scared that you have no business being up there at all. That if you’re scared, you’re already in the wrong frame of mind to succeed and the perfect frame of mind to fail.

Earlier, I said I have a fear of heights but it is really more of a fear of falling.

Years ago when I was a counselor at a church camp in Woodward, OK, I had idea to start a belly flop contest at our annual night-swim. It spawned from a story about a belly flop contest that I actually made up and used as an example to teach the students about laying it all on the line for Jesus or something really cheesy like that. Here is a video of the contest…

The tradition lived on for at least another two years after this that I am aware of. I think it is funny to note that all of this stemmed from what was a made up story that turned into something very real and very painfully beautiful.

But these kids lined up for belly flop after belly flop without questioning it. And for what? What was all of this for? There was no real prize involved.

I believe the kids put themselves through torture because they wanted to know what it felt like to experience sacrifice in a tangible way. All week at the camp, we had been talking about what it meant to give yourself away. Giving yourself away is a really good thought; every one usually wants to know what it feels like to sacrifice something for something bigger. These students, they didn’t want to think it anymore, they didn’t want sacrifice to be a dream or a cute idea, they wanted to feel it, and the results turned out to be amazing.

There is a part of risk that is rewarding, even if the risk will undoubtedly result in pain. The reward goes beyond life lessons and into something that happens in our hearts. With risk, there is a seemingly inevitable failure. I stood on top of that 10-meter platform, looking down at the water and could only imagine myself gliding through the air like a kid on a trapeze, tucking into a ball as I flip through the air, opening up as graceful as ever, only to belly flop on the surface of the water because I had no idea the pool was coming up so soon. At the top of the platform, all I could imagine was disaster.

But these kids in the belly flop contest, the result WAS disaster and they knew that going into it! How do you explain that?

Years ago, many years before the belly flop contest, my old youth pastor Dan taught me how to belly flop without it hurting much. It sounds dumb, but this little snippet of a lesson was really about something bigger. It was like Dan was telling me that the water is coming, it’s going to feel like concrete when you hit it, but here’s a way it won’t hurt as much. In life, this translates to failure is coming. Disaster is coming. Hard times are just a blink away. Death. Sickness. Trouble. Pain. It’s all coming. It’s all going to feel like concrete when you hit it. It is going to hurt like hell, but here’s a way that it wont hurt as bad.

The kids in the contest knew the pain that was involved in the contest, and they lined up around the pool regardless.

Life is coming at you, right now, and it is coming fast. Dan showed me a way to belly flop without it hurting much, but he also showed me the way to life that doesn’t hurt as much either. That way is Jesus. The way isn’t easy, and it is not comfortable, but His way is good. His burden is light, and he can comfort you in those times, through the inevitable pain ahead. If you follow His way, life is still going to hurt. Your belly will be red, and you will feel defeated, but if you continue in His way, He will give you rest and you will be victorious. So even though pain is inevitable, we must approach the edge without fear, for it is fear that puts us in the wrong frame of mind to succeed, and the perfect frame of mind to fail.