Years ago, I went scuba diving into a shark-feeding frenzy with two of my kids. We descended sixty feet to the ocean floor, knelt in a large circle, and a scuba-pro clad in chain mail descended 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). I set my favorite shark photo as the desktop image on my computer.
About a year later, I opened my laptop on a business trip, and the man next to me asked about the sharks on my desktop. I told him about our shark dive. He shared his own story of risk.
He once took a chance in a business venture, but the venture failed, costing lots of money, prestige, and self-respect. He made a decision never again to take a risk. Twenty years later, his wife had just filed for divorce, he hates his boring job, and his kids loathe him.
“Sam,” he said, “the greatest risk I ever took was the decision never to risk again.”
Danger Is Unavoidable
Some people are naturally wild: hot-dog kids who skateboarded behind cars by hanging onto their bumpers, or adults who bungee-jump or skydive (or swim with sharks). We say, “I’m a safety-first kind of person; I’m just not reckless.” Yet the point is, safety-first is just as perilous as thrill-seeking, fear of risk is every bit as reckless. And not as fun. Helen Keller said,
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.
Safety isn’t truly safe. Timidity may be more dangerous than taking a chance. Cowardice may be the greatest peril of all.
The fear of risk blinds us to the risk of fear.
How Dangerous Are Christians?
I fear most Christians lean more towards timidity than risk-taking. Maybe it’s because “failure” sounds so much like sin. But failure isn’t wrong, it’s just a mistake. Gossiping about your friends behind their back is sin. Fruitless attempts are just fruitful lessons learned.
Someone once said, “It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on and make the next one.”
Pride, not humility, fuels our fear of the unknown. Besides, God designed us for danger. It’s in our DNA. Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep amidst wolves” (which sound a lot like swimming with sharks). We are made for risk.
Although let’s balance brawn with brains. I swam with relatively safe sharks, not Great Whites.
Mistakes Are Great Teachers
In 1983 I labored in my worst job ever. For eight months, I hated every moment. Sunday nights were terrible because “tomorrow” I would wake up to another week of misery. Yet I learned more about business (who I am, what kind of promises to make, and how to deal with angry customers) than I ever did from any other five-year job that I loved. It was a good mistake.
We’ve all heard that mistakes are master teachers, but we forget. Here are some reminders:
- Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new (Einstein).
- Those who never make mistakes never make anything (Brenda Ueland).
- If we look back on our past life we shall often see that we have been helped by our mistakes and injured by our wisest decisions (Churchill).
- Success is not the absence of mistakes. It is the product of mistakes (Unknown).
The ultimate form of recklessness is to live a life of riskless-ness.
So What Can We Do?
Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors / And make us lose the good we oft might win / By fearing to attempt.” Shakespeare’s advice is simple. He says, “Try something. Anything.” We may fear risk because the hazards seem too great. Sometimes they are. To develop our new habit, let’s forget about climbing Mt. Everest (for now).
Let’s start by sharing with a friend something we’ve never shared; or write a poem, disagree in public … or learn to scuba dive. Confidence in little risks grows our risk-ability. Soon we’ll swim with sharks.
And we’ll sheep-fully (not sheepishly) engage the world of wolves.
Excellent! Thank you Sam!
It’s funny, I was just reflecting back on an old experience; I actually wasn’t considering our current turmoil of fear in the middle of this COVID period. But it applies as well today.
As we observe a world in peril, may more of us heed the wisdom of these words.
Someone once said, “If we learn to fear God, we’ll never fear anything else again.”
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; and wisdom is the ability to live with competence in this ever-changing world.
Your article is so “right on”. I am at age 75 and my wife Jan is at age 65. We have both recently written books about living the Christian Life. Including such interesting topics including, “How to please God by ‘Not Trying to Please Him'” and how to share our faith through our lives, “using words only when necessary” (LOL)
It is risky to extend our personalities to the general public through writing, (as you know Sam). One opens oneself to criticism as well as possible praise (and possible profit, if books are for sale). I would advise those who have a “Book in mind” to go ahead and “Take the Risk!”, write it and submit it to Kindle. Kindle publishing has tips for formatting and even content and marketing. nothings risked, nothing gained, some say! As Sam writes above, NOT taking risks is actually more perilous to your life than takin some. BTW my book is titled “Like Eating Jelly with Chopsticks” and can be found simply by simply typing that title in your browser. Jan’s book is titled,”Reflections of Love in Brokenness” and should be available next month. Looking forward to YOUR next book, Sam!
Thanks for sharing.
This is very timely. I realized in the past 5 or so years a horrible change has come over me: I care most about safety, security and comfort. A very “better safe than sorry ” type if attitude that also keeps me in depression more than I like. Not a good attitude for a Jesus follower
From all I can tell, living today is still the safest time the world has ever experienced–even in the middle of this COVID season.
Maybe fear-ism and safety-ism is simply the result of the nature of media: more people read when the headlines are more wild.
Risk has gotten me in trouble several times and I keep coming back for more because it creates fearlessness. At 63 I am pretty fearless. However, I need to give most of the credit to my perfect Father as I trust Him more and more.
Yes, even our fearlessness is a gift from God; it is HIS working in our hearts day by day, year by year.
I like to “play it safe” and often pride myself in that. What Jesus said about going out as sheep among wolves IS risk that I never picked up on before when reading that passage. Some key words i pick up on : “sheep” which are gentle; also stupid and desperately dependent on a Shepherd. Knowing Who goes before and behind me gives me courage to risk among the wolves – even the wolves of the unknown.
I think God has us as “sheep among wolves” so we constantly go to him.
We humans love (too much) to rely on ourselves.
The only time that I am afraid of taking a risk is when I fear it may have eternal consequences.
Or cause a concussion.
You make a great point. As Jesus said: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
absolutely excellent…echoed in the deepest parts of my heart. Thank you!! Applicable for ALL of life at anytime, but WOW! how apropos at a such a time as this!
Beliefs of the Heart
WOW back at you! Thanks.