Comments Off on Falling

To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
What’s the most dangerous place in your house?
That’s easy:  It’s the stairs.
The number one cause of accidental death in the United States is driving mishaps.  Falling down the stairs ranks second.
In At Home, Bill Bryson’s magnum opus on the history of the house, the author points out that “huge amounts of money and bureaucratic time are invested in fire prevention, fire research, fire codes and fire insurance, but almost none is spent on the understanding or prevention of falls.” 
We do know a few things.
Unmarried people tend to fall down the stairs more often than married people.  Previously married people fall more than both.  Kids fall most often but are injured the least, while 84% of those who are seriously injured on the stairs qualify for the senior discount at Wendy’s.
Interestingly, people in good shape tend to fall more often than people in bad shape.  This is presumably because they’re more confident of their footing and thus go “bounding” beyond recommended staircase speed limits. 
It’s clearly more dangerous going down than climbing up.  About 90% of staircase falls happen to people who are descending.  People who stumble tend to think of themselves as clumsy oafs.  But the real issue is usually design.
John Templer of MIT has written the must-read volume on stairway safety: The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls, and Safer Design.  Templer explores the three pieces of a staircase’s geometry: rise, going, and pitch.
Rise describes the height between steps.  Going is the depth or horizontal distance from step to step.  Pitch measures the angle of a stairway’s “steepness.” 
In general, a pitch more than 45 degrees wears us out.  A pitch under 27 degrees is ponderously slow.  Intriguingly, stairways with four or fewer steps turn out to be the most dangerous – apparently because they seem to inspire over-confidence.
What are the keys to stairway safety?  They sound like timeless principles for wise living:  Slow down.  Pay attention.  Stay upright.  One step at a time.  Keep your eyes on where you’re going.
So what ranks as one of the most dangerous of all spiritual conditions?
That’s easy:  It’s falling down spiritually without having anyone to pick you up. 
God makes it clear that life is not about flying solo.  The author of the book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up the other.  But woe to the one who is alone when he or she falls and has no one to help!” (Eccles 4:9-10)
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”  That oft-repeated phrase has sold a fair number of emergency response devices for people who are going through life alone. 
All of us are bound to “fall” metaphorically from time to time.  But even in the middle of a bustling crowd or a gregarious family, we may feel spiritually, relationally, or emotionally cut off. 
If you feel alone today, will anybody be there for you?
There is One who will always be there.  “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling…” (Jude 23). 
We may stumble on staircases. 
But we can never stumble so far in our hearts that God cannot catch us.