Courage to Face the Threshold Guardians

Feb 26 / Laura Hudson
Image used with permission: Sarolta Bán,
A few years ago, during a creative prayer class at a Companioning Center conference, I received a picture that helped me enter into a transformed relationship with fear. 

I’d just completed spiritual direction training and had begun working with a few clients as I continued ministering as a local church pastor. But I had also sensed that the Spirit was guiding me to offer the gifts of spiritual direction outside my congregation and Christian context.

Aware that this calling would lead me beyond the safety of any established institution and out into an entrepreneurial realm, I was terrified to cross the threshold. Just thinking about it activated my anxieties. Who did I think I was? What would people think of me? Was it selfish to ask for payment? Was it even possible to run a “spiritual business?”

Perhaps you’ve experienced similar concerns about stepping into or expanding your spiritual practice, direction, and leadership. Whenever we experience a new dream, vision, or calling, fears will inevitably arise at each new threshold between our present reality and the unknown world of our quest. 

In epic quest stories, these deep fears are symbolized by threshold guardians, characters such as the troll under the bridge, the uncooperative gatekeeper, or Cerberus in Greek Mythology (or “Fluffy” in the Harry Potter stories). These characters test the protagonist’s purpose, motivations, and resolve, as well as their willingness to adapt and relate to changing circumstances. 

In the creative prayer class, glancing through a stack of pictures supplied by the teacher, I gravitated toward what appeared to be a vintage photograph of a child, perhaps 3 years old, laying her small hands upon the brow of a huge grizzly bear. It surprised and shocked me: who would allow a small child such proximity to an enormous, wild bear? 

Relieved to learn that the image was a fantasy creation of the artist Sarolta Bán, I realized that I was drawn to the gentle and reverential mood depicted in the relationship between the child and the bear. The bear’s head is bowed, as if in consent to the child’s touch, and it seemed to me that the child was offering a blessing. 

The picture opened my mind to consider new ways to engage with my fears. In my favorite stories, the heroes find playful and innovative ways to negotiate or collaborate with the threshold guardian as an ally. Perhaps they tell the troll a riddle, help the gatekeeper with a difficult task, or sing the three-headed dog to sleep.

Perhaps the bear represented my inner threshold guardian, who felt threatened by my calling to expand my spiritual direction practice. What if I approached my fear like a child, reaching out to stroke and soothe with small, gentle hands? What if I disarmed the threshold guardian with the kindness of deep listening and the comfort of a blessing? 

As my contemplation deepened, I recognized that the bear also revealed my fear of the God who called me to the threshold crossing. Sometimes God seems so vast, untamed, and wildly Other. Yet I’m reminded that though God isn’t “safe,” God is “good,” as Mr. Beaver says about the lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Could I become like a child with curiosity and a beginner’s mind, just as Jesus describes in Matthew 18:3?

“To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge,” writes John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us. “It demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging.” 

Praying with images and story patterns has helped me befriend my threshold guardians, listen to their messages, and transform fears from obstacles into opportunities. I’m grateful for these tools, which helped me cultivate the courage to found my business, Resilient Spirit, and trust in God to take each step on the still-emergent path. 

Join Laura for a FREE online workshop on March 7, Cultivate Your Courage to Lead Your Empowered, Creative Life. This workshop will help transformational leaders, healers, and creatives who have big, scary goals or are going through periods of transition to step across the threshold of their calling with courage, resilience, and grace. In this online gathering, we’ll explore typical fears and resistance and outline a guiding framework to help transform these obstacles into opportunities. 

Laura Hudson
Laura Elly Hudson helps writers and artists, transformational leaders, and healers cultivate courage and resilience so that they can complete projects, heal relationships, and step into their dreams. Laura is a spiritual director, coach, community storytelling facilitator, and memoir writer, and she has served as a PC(USA) church co-pastor for 14 years. Laura lives in La Grande OR with her husband, sons, and a cat named Chocolate. You can reach Laura at: or