I am a “certified peace officer” in the State of Georgia, having graduated from the Fulton County Public Safety Training Center in 1992. In order to keep my certification current, I must return to the pistol range each year and qualify. Normally, I go with the members of the Peachtree City Police Department during their regular qualification times. Because I am a good shot, I enjoy these times.
I qualified as an “expert,” in 1970 with the M-14 rifle as Parris Island (among the 10% of Marines who do so), and I fired “expert” with the pistol at the police academy in 1992. In fact, the lowest I have ever qualified on the pistol range is as an “expert,” with my scores normally allowing me to wear the “master” designation, which is the highest possible at the police department. So, I look forward to returning to the range and trying to match or best my previous scores.
The last time, however, was nerve-wracking for me. The range master announced that, in addition to qualifying with the pistol, we would be expected to qualify with the shotgun. We would fire and qualify with the “old” shotguns that were being phased out by the department as well as with the “new” weapons which were being phased in. We would be expected to qualify on both shotguns. It had been decades since I had fired a shotgun. In fact, I had only fired a shotgun five times and that was on one day and just for familiarization when I was assigned to walk guard duty at Quantico Marine Corps Base in 1972.
It was obvious that the regular police officers were comfortable with this weapon but I was not. In fact, I suggested to the range master that I might just sit this one out. Because I am a chaplain and not employed as a police officer, I could certainly do this as no pressure was on me to qualify with this weapon. He said that the principles of firing are the same and I should give it a shot (excuse the pun). Honestly, I wasn’t afraid of the shotgun but I was mortified at the thought of being embarrassed.
Not only were the officers expected to hit targets which would disappear within a few seconds, they were expected to be able to do something called “combat re-loads” which required some dexterity and skill. Everything was timed. I thought that if all I had to do was to stand there and shoot at a target and not be under a time constraint, I might do well. But I was pretty certain that I would just humiliate myself if I stood on the line alongside these professional men and women. Once again, I remarked privately to the range master that I wasn’t comfortable with this. He said, “Suit yourself, it’s up to you. But it’s not like your job is on the line so what do you have to lose by trying?” “My dignity,” I silently mused.
However, I decided he was right. The only thing keeping me from trying was pride and fear—especially the fear of failure. So, after listening to the instructions about what would be expected, I took my place on the firing line with shotgun in hand and extra rounds in my pocket. When all the smoke had finally cleared and the scores were tallied, I had managed not to be humiliated. In fact, on the two qualifying scores, I had earned a 99% and a 96% score on the two weapons—expert status. I was quietly elated.
Fear often keeps us from taking a chance—for men, the fear of failure or embarrassment is particularly acute. Fear keeps us from trying out for the sports teams, or seeking that new position, or running for Student Council or for local office. It keeps us from asking out the Prom Queen, from calling on that new client or customer, or from starting that new business. For some who have been burned at romance, fear keeps them from risking their heart to another. For many, the fear is ever-present and must be intentionally conquered.
I was elated with my performance on the range and deeply gratified that I had listened to the range master and had swallowed my fear. The fear was still there in the pit of my stomach but it was over-ridden by determination to at least try. The lesson was clear—“What do you have to lose? Give it a shot.” What you have to lose is your fear.
David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org) He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at email@example.com.