Sitting on the Beam

There is an image that comes to me when I am struggling, a way of picturing myself. I also used it with clients sometimes to help them picture how they were feeling about a task or a skill.

Imagine a sturdy wooden beam stretching across a distance, a beam that is holding you up. It could be in a barn or under a bridge, a tree branch or even a high balance beam. You know it can bear your weight—of that you are confident. But what does “holding you up” mean? If you are holding on by your hands or finger tips, it is holding you, bearing your weight. It won’t break. It may take a lot of work to hold on, but you have to acknowledge that you are “on it.”

Now imagine yourself sitting on the beam or branch. Again, it is holding you. It is strong enough. But what a different experience. You are comfortable, at least as comfortable as one can be sitting on a beam!

Being on the beam can happen in many different ways. A simple example. You can have a grade average of 93.6% which would round up to 94, an A grade for which you worked hard and feel lucky to get. Or your average may be 100%, something you didn’t really work that hard for. Either way your grade will be an A, but the dymanics behind it are experienced differently.

This past year I have thought of that image repeatedly as I’ve faced new challenges. In the spring I agreed to chair the Worship Commission at church, the group that plans worship services. I’ve led worship in various churches many times. I have seminary training. It sounded like a fit. However, much was new about it, and it came with details no one had thought to tell me about ahead of time. In addition, COVID called for continuous adaptations that were new for us all. Because of other committee members’ schedules, I ended up being the one who needed to find individuals to fill multiple slots for each worship service. This process was made even trickier as people’s schedules filled up over the holidays. To paraphrase my friend Evie, I sometimes felt like I was doing research to find out who wouldn’t be at church on a given Sunday. I had some lists to help me come up with possibilities, but all of them incomplete. Being relatively new to the congregation, I still didn’t know a lot of people nor did I know their gifts. I was hanging on by my fingertips.

Beam number two was editing a bi-monthly newsletter for a community organization. Not a big job—right? Although I’ve never edited anything but my own work and that of writing group friends, I often threaten to bring out my red pen when I read poor writing.

I’d been a member of this organization for several years but had paid little attention to it and attended few of its meeting. Suddenly, I needed to know a lot more. I met with the previous editor and others with whom I would work. I had major help with the first two issues, both of which fell due when I was out of town or particularly busy with other things. The third issue had complications of its own. With good help from others, we got it out, but I felt frazzled and completely incompetent, hanging on by my fingertips.

Weaving through both of these were tasks around The Blistering Morning Mist, my memoir that came out in August. I wanted to plan for some publicity events and to figure out some ways to let people know about the book. Putting myself forward and asking favors of others don’t come easily to me. This was a completely new frontier, again made more challenging by COVID. For weeks at a time, I didn’t even hold on by my fingertips. I simply let go, only to have to take hold again.

A new year has begun and life feels different. I took off the entire week between Christmas and New Year and wouldn’t let myself do any work on any of these three. Then this past Monday I sat down and plotted my course for the next while. I feel almost like a different person. Of course, one day or one week off didn’t transform everything. Changes started earlier through the gracious stepping in of several others to help lighten the load—one person to help fill worship slots, another person to be associate editor of the newsletter. I have more experience. I’ve made a newsletter schedule for the year. I am starting to have ideas for worship rather than just scrambling to know “how things are usually done.”

Somehow, without my really recognizing it, the mad scramble of the fall has pulled me, or enable me to climb up on the beam. I am sitting, not hanging on for dear life. I’m under no illusion that I’ll feel confident every minute or that I can’t revert to a finger-grip again in the face of a deadline, but I also know I can sit at least some of the time. For that I give thanks.

What are your experiences of holding on and sitting?

Posted in



  1. Sandy on January 10, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    This is a feeling quite familiar to me; it’s nice to have this metaphor to hang onto!

  2. kathiekurtz on January 10, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    Good! Another friend commented that it gave her vertigo, which wasn’t my intent. I don’t think of the image so much in terms of what is below as in terms of the ease or lack thereof in being “on” something.

Leave a Comment