I reached my fitness high water mark at the age of twenty-four. I ran thirty miles a week, sweated three hundred pushups a day, and I brawled each week in the local boxing club.
Used with permission: www.judophotos.com
In the midst of my peak physical prowess (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was forty-ish, chubby, and he wheezed as he walked. I think his exercise routine consisted of lifting large bottles of beer rather than heavy barbells.
He was the first black belt of any kind I had ever met. He intrigued me. Could this chubby, middle-aged man really beat me in a friendly fight? The fool inside me challenged him to hand-to-hand combat.
Not since infancy have I spend so much time on the ground. The lawn and I became intimate allies. I huffed, puffed, wheezed, and groaned (and maybe cursed, but it’s still all a blur) as he repeatedly—and effortlessly—tossed me to the ground.
It didn’t matter what punch I threw. Each jab, hook, and uppercut finished with me staring at the sky, gasping for air, and wondering what had happened.
Ten years ago, I went scuba diving during a shark-feed with two of my kids. We descended sixty feet to the ocean floor and knelt in a large circle. A scuba pro (in chain mail) followed us down with a basket of fish heads. Scores of sharks slammed into us on the way to their feast.
I couldn’t resist buying a few professional photographs (even though they cost me an arm and a leg), and I posted my new favorite photo to my computer’s desktop.
(The hungry-looking big fish are sharks; the tasty-looking humanoids are my kids and me.)
About a year later, I opened my laptop on a business trip, and the man next to me asked about the shark picture. I told him about our shark dive. He then shared his own story of risk.
He once took a chance in a business venture, but the venture failed, costing him money, prestige, and self-respect. He decided never again to take a risk. And that’s how he has lived ever since.
Now, twenty years later, his wife just filed for divorce, he hates his job, and his kids despise him. He ended his story with a line that has haunted me. “Sam,” he said,
“The greatest risk I ever took was the decision never to risk again.”
Last week I slumped at my gate in an airport. Bored. Twenty-five more minutes until boarding, and I felt the tedium of the wait. How could I kill time? I tried Sudoku, then reading email, then Solitaire, but boredom and the noisy terminal distracted me.
I checked out noise-canceling headphones in a gadget store, but I couldn’t choose. I sagged back in line. Only twenty more minutes of monotony. My watch seemed to run backwards.
Two old women behind me discussed the evils of the internet. I yawned. Heard it all before.
Then one woman said, “The biggest problem with the internet is that it kills curiosity. We used to search for answers; now we just find information. The joy of the quest is dead.”
I sat up. My own curiosity was sparked and I began to wonder. I liked it. I recently read this,
Digital technologies are severing the link between effort and mental exploration … By making it easier for us to find answers, the Web threatens habits of deeper inquiry.*
Curiosity killed the cat. And soul-less (satisfaction starved) information is killing our curiosity.
Deathbed advice offers impact which no other advice provides.
My father died of cancer sixteen years ago. A few weeks before his death, knowing he would die soon, my father offered me advice.
As a long term pastor, my father counseled hundreds of men and women. He said that many of them lived their lives being controlled by their parents. They spent their lives avoiding their parents’ bad behavior.
My father was not an angel; he had an anger problem. He lost his temper over little events, like when he lost his keys (which he seemed to lose all the time!). He was concerned that his kids might waste their lives trying to avoid his anger issue. He advised me instead to spend my energy imitating the good things I saw in my parents and teachers and friends.
Then he said this: “If you spend your life trying not to be somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.”
We will never become ourselves by running from; we will only become our true selves by running to. If we turn our inner life into a vacuum—always removing things—our inner life will never become a thing of substance. It will always be empty.
My son David recently married “the girl next door” (almost literally), and the reception was at our house. The day before the wedding, my sons and I took an old porch swing from the barn and hung it from a large branch. A few days after the wedding, the branch broke and smashed the swing. The branch had looked solid, but it was rotten.
I am so grateful no one was resting on the swing when that branch broke.
While no one was hurt, the smashed swing caused me consider that one of the greatest risks of all may be where we rest our hearts.
Some of us find rest in success or career. When work goes well, our hearts find peace. But jobs are fragile branches. They cannot bear the weight of our lives.
Some of us find rest in family. When our kids are good or when our spouse loves us, our hearts find peace. But families are fragile branches. Our spouse may die (in fact, will die), and our children will make mistakes, and they too may suffer grave illness or death.
Some of us find rest in ministry. When our talks are loved and our blogs are read and people are converted, our hearts find peace. But ministry is a fragile branch. We can do everything right and not see fruit. Jesus did everything perfectly, and he was murdered.
Jeremiah 17:7 says: Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
I think this verse says it is not enough to merely trust in the Lord. If we stop there, it can in fact be a huge mistake.
Some people seem naturally courageous, like their DNA was infused with risk at birth. And others seem born afraid of their shadows. Is this true? Are the courageous always courageous, and are the rest of us really scaredy cats?
Every person we meet has a deep, heart-level, fear; and at times fear paralyzes us.