“Don’t look down,” my coach told me. “Focus on the goal”—not the hot coals under your feet. (Rich didn’t say that last part. Mentioning hot coals would turn my mind in a direction it wasn’t supposed to go.) “Cool moss, cool moss—chant it as you walk”—on the hot coals that you aren’t thinking about.
The Southern and East Africa leadership of our organization, SIM, was meeting at Carmel Christian Accomodation and Convention Center outside George, South Africa. The view of Victoria Bay was spectacular. Mountain mists watered colorful gardens each morning. We even saw whales frolicking in the surf when we hiked down to the beach.
Rich Campe led us in an Igniting the Fire Within workshop, challenging us to think through our passions, gifts and what God wants us to do, and break through the boundaries that have kept us from being as effective as we could be. Breaking a board with our bare hands was the first exercise to convince us we could do what we didn’t think we could. I have tried that before and bruised my hand. Rich had us focus on a positive experience of achievement in some other area and recreate that feeling in our minds. I focused on my skating competition program, feeling one with the music and skating with confidence.
“On one side of the board,” Rich said, “write something you have been wanting to achieve.” I wrote, “Revise The Empty Cup.” I have been putting that off because I’m afraid of not coming up with the right ideas to fix the problems.
“Now on the other side of the board,” Rich continued, “write what holds you back.” I wrote “FEAR OF FAILURE” in big letters.
Rich showed us how to position the board between two chairs. “When you are ready,” he said, “push all the way through. Don’t hesitate or draw back.”
Someone else in our group broke the board with ease. It could be done. I positioned my board. I pictured a sheet of blue-white ice, hard and cold. I felt my body fully under control, ready for the opening strains of music. Then I pushed through the board. It shattered into three pieces, not merely two. I can do this!
Then we went outside to where a twelve foot bed of hot coals had been prepared. Two people stood at the far end with a pan of water and a hose to catch us as we pushed through and quickly put out any coals that might cling to toes and burn.
“It won’t hurt you,” Rich assured us. I trusted him. He had shown his competence in the sessions of the day. He had walked on coals himself many times. Our Deputy International Director for East and Southern Africa led the way, walking firmly across. He didn’t scream or anything. Others followed.
I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and waited in the cold mud. It wasn’t that I wanted to do this as much as I wanted to have done it. If I didn’t take the opportunity, it might never come again, and I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life.
Janice Peters from Mozambique was the first woman to take the challenge. Several others moved forward without hesitation—that I could see, anyway.
This isn’t going to get any easier, I told myself. And there is no doubt about whether or not you will do it. I took my place at the end of the glowing walk, pictured that sheet of unmarked ice, and walked!
Okay, I singed the bottom of my left arch slightly on the last step. I think I started to celebrate my victory before I quite finished and lost my focus. But I did it! (When the adrenaline wore off, I could feel the sting in my arch, but by morning it was gone and never blistered.)
Not everyone walked. Some found the fear too much. Some simply chose not to participate. A few came from backgrounds where fire-walking was associated with religious rituals that made them uncomfortable. (In another part of the country where such things could be easily misunderstood, SIM would not have considered such an activity.) There was no pressure to conform.
I am not a Rah! Rah! Psych-yourself-up person. I am a logical thinker, a dedicated plodder. But when I broke the board with “FEAR OF FAILURE” written on it, I knew that with enough determination and commitment to the work, I could revise The Empty Cup to the satisfaction of my agent and readers. By choosing to focus and push ahead to do something unthinkably terrifying like walk on hot coals, I convinced myself that I could tackle the frightening prospect of becoming book designer, publisher, and distribution agent for some of my HIV stories for Africa.
If I can walk on hot coals, I can do anything! (Although my friend Ruth suggests it might be a good idea to have someone to catch me at the other end.)
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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