I’m a risk taker in the small r, small t sense of the word. I love adventure—trying new foods, exposure to diverse experiences and situations, exploring new cultures and languages, singing in front of crowds. Even when I’m uncomfortable and must control my shallow, nervous breathing, I actually like and seek change. But all of the risk-taking and adventure falls within some very defined boundaries. I enjoy risk on a firm foundation, preferring to control against any unpleasant consequences, like death or bankruptcy or physical discomfort.
Unlike people who embark on activities that could actually cause them harm, I’m the kind of person that likes a safety net. I want the thrill, but it needs to be a safe thrill. Each time I get on a roller coaster, I have to remind myself that if people were actually dying on this ride, it wouldn’t be allowed to remain open for the public. Whatever the activity, I like to know that I’m securely fastened, that the fear factor is only for fun and that I won’t actually die.
I’m also a wee bit timid when it comes to entrepreneurial endeavours. Some people are motivated by risk; they have incredible business ideas, love being their own boss, putting it all on black, and knowing that it’s up to them to make it work. I, on the other hand, do not want “the buck” to stop with me. I like to know there’s a paycheck coming on pay day. I don’t actually want my great ideas to bankrupt me.
As for deck railings, I unconsciously give them a small push before placing my full weight against them; particularly if I’m higher than the first story. I, also, really appreciate the netting around our trampoline, because when I, or one of the kids, get double-bounced, we throttle against the net and then fall back to the trampoline…instead of ending up in a nearby tree with a broken back. Call me wimpy, but I don’t actually want to experience discomfort.
There is a full spectrum between the benchmarks of extreme risk-taking (aka. foolhardy) and extreme risk-avoidance (aka. fearful). Wherever you identify on the foolhardy-fearful spectrum, we must all trust what is unseen. Whether it’s that an elevator has been well-maintained by the people purporting to do so or that our car brakes will slow us when we apply them or that the pilot knows how to land this plane or that a promise will be kept or that God exists—it all requires faith.
Living with faith is in direct opposition to my preference for safety and certainty. I have an innate inclination to control all of the circumstances; so, here’s the annoying thing about faith. We don’t get to set the guidelines. We don’t get to see how it will all turn out and then decide whether or not to join or continue. We don’t get to put parameters on risk, as in “I will do this IF I am surrounded by protective netting.” The minute we attempt to make faith certain, it’s no longer faith.
Even if we were asked to run the show, we couldn’t truly be trusted. My particular feelings on what is safe or not safe may alter day to day, depending on how much sleep I’ve had, the circumstances of my life and how I read and filter situations through my mood. As much as I want to set the boundaries, I know I can’t really be trusted to draw perfect lines. Instead, my faith (as relates to everything) is in a God who doesn’t tire and doesn’t experience mood swings. He is unchanging, always good and always wise, so I lean in his direction, despite my fickle emotions. One of my favourite authors, C.S. Lewis wrote:
Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” (from “Mere Christianity“)
Faith in a God we don’t see with our physical eyes sounds foolhardy. It sounds downright moronic. Stupid, even. Just as we wouldn’t lean over the edge of a tall building to see how far we can go before forfeiting equilibrium, why would ANYONE lean into the invisible and intentionally put their faith in something or someone they cannot see?
And yet, for me, my richest life happens when I lean hard into God. This girl who feels cynical about the reliability of your ropes and carabiners when rock climbing has somehow learned to throw her full weight on an unseen God. This girl who prefers a sure thing has learned to listen and act, even in unusual circumstances, to a God who can be trusted to give good counsel. This girl who would happily write her own story were she able, relinquishes full control to the author who has the best, most fulfilling life for her.
My safety in this life doesn’t come by my own doing. With age and experience comes the startling realization that we actually have very little control of anything. Yes, we can obviously make wise choices for spiritual, physical, intellectual and emotional health, but ultimately, we are not in control. And so, we can live in fear (which is not of God) or live in love (which means, live in God).
Fearful living is small and inhibited. In “Life Lessons,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler write that “fear doesn’t stop death, but stops life.” Sadly, it IS possible to be alive on this earth, doing all of the daily things that make us seem alive, but be dead. Conversely, living in love means we live with abandon; we peel our clenched fingers from the railing and trust that God is who he says he is, inviting him to prove it to us again and again.
The Bible is filled with God’s promises to care for and protect us. Though I’m hesitant to lean hard against an unsecured railing, I lean hard into these promises. I believe them with all of my might. I have proved them. When I’m feeling fearful and lacking in faith, I engage with these scriptures. I say them out loud, I write them on sticky notes and post them on my bathroom mirror, I pray them over myself and my family.
Here are, but a few, of the bazillion promises God makes to us:
He is a mighty fortress of protection for us: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower and those who run to him will be saved.” (NIV Prov. 18.10)
He is solid ground under our feet: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Ps. 40.2)
He longs to comfort and protect us: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Ps. 91.4)
He keeps his promises: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isa. 55.11)
He gives direction: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it.” (Isa. 30.21)
His plans for us are good: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29.11)
He is always with us: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1.9)
He helps us: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isa. 41.13)
He quiets our anxiety with his peace: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4.6-7)
I could go on ad nauseum, but instead, I’ll bequeath the treasure hunt to you. Dig in and uncover his promises. His words are living and active, which means the promises were true yesterday, they’re true today and they’ll be true forever. Risk falling against these safety nets in this crazy world. Lean hard on these railings that keep us from tumbling over.
C.S. Lewis said: “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” (from “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer”), so if you’ve never tried and proved God’s faithfulness or if it’s been a while since you engaged your faith, begin all over again. Lean hard.
He holds true for this risk-averse cynic. He’ll hold true for you.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV Heb. 11.1)