I like the risk in theory. I like the idea of stepping out into what is unknown and weird and scary. The first time I ever went to a water park, my mom talked us into doing the second-scariest slide in the park, and we waited in line with her, and I was all, “Woo, this is a great idea!” The line was long, and as we waited I congratulated myself with how brave I was. That is, until it was my turn to position myself in the mouth of the slide. In a moment my courage evaporated in the hot summer sun, but by then there was no backing out.
As soon as I pushed off, my fears were confirmed. A torrent of water pummeled my face and I couldn’t breath. I opened my mouth to yell and choked instead. The grooves in the slide where each piece connected with the next burned my shoulder blades, and the force of sliding straight down so fast gave me the most unholy wedgie. I distinctly remember feeling disoriented when I arrived at the bottom, my brain was saying so many things at once. Things like, “YOU ALMOST JUST DROWNED.” — “Get out of the way so the next person doesn’t run you over!” — “Wait, fix your swim suit first!” — “There’s still water in your lungs!” — “Where did your water shoes go? HOT PAVEMENT.” — “Where is mommy, I can’t see from all that water!” And other panicked, exclamation-marked sentiments.
I survived that traumatizing experience, it’s true, but it’s what I always remember when I worry I’ve signed up for something that’s a bit too much for me. Though my brain is all too eager to confront the risk, the challenge, when push comes to shove my heart is a shivering, squishy mess.
I felt that way shortly after I arrived in Central Asia for a year of teaching English. The plan felt foolproof. Access to a place not easily penetrated by cross-cultural faith work? Check. A job that automatically connects me with locals who speak my language? Check. A year learning about cross-cultural servanthood and evangelism to win hearts and grow the Kingdom? Great idea all around! And I cannot overstate how much of a privilege it was.
But even though I was there just one year, it was still really difficult. Every time we invited someone over to our flat I got butterflies in my stomach. Every time we went to someone’s house I felt faint. I had to steel my nerves at so many social interactions, waiting, waiting to break through the barrier of my own awkwardness and poor language skills into active love for these people for whom I harbor such affection. With shame I admit, more than a few times I baulked in fear.
How often do you get to the top of the metaphorical water slide and want to bail?
And how many times does Jesus say to His disciples, or to the people He heals, “Take courage” and “Do not be afraid”? He is honored by our desire to take risks. He is glorified in our aspirational commitments to things that are too difficult for us. He would rather us make use of what He’s given us, then have us sit on our hands avoiding the risk. This is what always convicts me in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Francis Chan observes, “You don’t want to be the servant who does nothing out of fear of messing up. You may well make a mistake through a misguided action, but you’re guaranteed to make a mistake by doing nothing.”
Oh, my feeble and fearful heart. I believe that our God can still be magnified through the risks His followers take in obedience to the call to be a witness. Of course we might have bitten off more than we can chew. But of course He can make all things possible.
Spirit, lead us where our trust is without borders.