When risk is right


Being the father of three teenage boys, and once a boy myself, I can confidently say that boys, and children in general, take a fair amount of pretty dumb risks.  In our case there have been more trips to the emergency room than I can remember.

Once my boys were sword fighting with plastic sprinkler pipe and someone got a pipe literally shoved down their throat.  Bleeding throat, to the ER.  Another time one of them threw a baseball bat at the other and hit him in the face, breaking his nose.  And once one of my boys, barely 4 years old, climbed about eight feet up a tree and fell out, breaking his front teeth.

Maybe I could be a better dad and have avoided some of this.  But as a boy I grew up with woods and fields behind my house, so instead of watching Power Rangers or playing Nintendo in my spare time I was usually miles away from home lost somewhere in the woods or way too high up in a tree.  I guess that’s trickled down to my kids in some manner, but they are all hearty young men, so I think my strategy is working.

Amidst the adventures I’ve told my boys this dozens of times: “Take risks, just make sure you take the right ones.”  This is a pretty important principle for kids to know.  Obviously, we don’t want them doing stupid things that will ruin their life.  But at the same time, in a brash revolt against the sanitized helicopter parenting of our age, I encourage them to take risks, to run on the open field, to try some things maybe they aren’t sure they can do…but to make sure they’re the right ones.

My reason for this parenting style is simple and Bible-based, and it applies to us adults as well, regardless of our age.  I believe we need boys and girls who are valorous.  We need to be children, and adults, who don’t lose the edge that pushes us to keep exploring, pushing, experimenting, creating.

Too many people get old and crusty and tap out on life.  I know this temptation well at age 44.  A real job, a mortgage, children, life drama, tragedies, idealism crumbling….there are many things that over time can dull our edge and sense of adventure and cause us to become a couch potato.

Applied to the spiritual life, we become a Christian couch potato.  This means we have become so numb by life’s struggles that we might enjoy church here or there, or flip through the Bible, or maybe do the things Christian people do now and then, but the football game and today’s fashion and the internet hold more attraction for us than God.

It’s a trap!  Like Ackbar said – it really is.  We tap out of the fight to keep dreaming, we stop risking.  Life becomes boring, years go by, we become spectators in life, reading about and watching everyone else live life on a screen instead of actually living one.

Moses of the Bible lived a long full life in stark contrast to these realities.  Deuteronomy 34:7, a verse that has hounded me for a good 20 years now, says that on his deathbed Moses’ “eye did not grow dim, nor did his vigor abate.”  And maybe more than most humans, this man surely had plenty of justifiable reasons to lose his edge and settle in to the mediocre life…but he didn’t.  So it is possible.

Recently I read an interview with the famous musician Tom Petty.  Summing up his refusal to settle for anything less than hard-searing truth and vocal attitude, he said: “You see all these rock groups get to the top, get too content and blow it with bad music.  My intention is to stay pissed off.”

The gold kernel there is that here is a person that never stopped fighting for a worthy cause.  I think it’s good wisdom for people of faith.  Don’t ever stop risking because the life that God calls us to is worth everything, and we keep taking that risk again and again, even to our deathbed.

I’d like to be like Mr. Petty in this way.  I’d like to have it said of me when I expire, as Moses, that my vigor never abated.  Maybe as our hair gets more and more grey we can still remain in touch with that little kid inside us who climbs trees that are too high, who fights battles that seem too great, that has little to lose and takes the right gambles to discover the fullest life in God.

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