O Man of flesh and bone, dread and cares,
Where can thy mind flee in despair?
O Lord of hope and life, love and tears,
What perils Thy heart surely bears.
O Demons of terror and night, loss and fears,
With our failing faith in your lair.
O Spirit of fire and wind, mystery so near,
In Thee my anxious soul repairs.
We encounter risks everyday. Risks such as crossing the street, lighting a stove, traveling by plane, and eating food are just part of life, and thus, we rarely give a second thought to the dangers of these acts. These risks are routine and even though the possibilities of accidents, explosions, crashes and food poisoning are certainly real, we take these risks without anxiety or dread. We have to go to work, cook, travel, and eat, so we press on without much thought of the risks involved. If we did not accept these risks and move on, we would find ourselves in a continual neurotic state, unable to carry out the functions of a normal life. But there is another kind of risk that frightens us to the core.
Chosen risks are those not mandated by routines, jobs, or basic needs; rather these come to us as opportunity and possibility. Because we have a choice in whether to take them or not, these risks are more tangible or real, and thus more frightening.
I offer two examples that may seem trivial but are real and personal for me. I am asked to speak to a group that I do not know. And even though I may be well-versed in the subject and may have even spoken on the topic before, fear grips me to the point of paralysis. Or my supervisor asks me if I would be willing to take on a new responsibility just beyond my capacities and experience. And though his request may affirm my potential and represent a wonderful opportunity, my mind and heart start to race to the point of anxiety. Having a choice in the risk is what frightens me. Speaking to a group and taking new responsibilities are not necessary for my survival or part of my daily routine, thus they become chosen risks. Because I must choose, I will calculate the risk, assess the possibility of loss, exposure or failure, and then decide whether to risk or not.
Saying Yes to an invitation to speak, to new responsibilities at work, to a risky relationship, to travel in a foreign country, to speak out for a controversial cause, to undertake a challenging hike, or to tackle a difficult problem means choosing to risk when risking is not necessary. Such a choice runs counter to my natural inclination to conserve, protect, insulate, and control. However, to risk is to venture in faith beyond the edge of known experience, the border of proven competency, and the limits of my comfort.
Faith is the belief that there are divine purposes much wider and deeper than the safety of the routine or what you or I might deem reasonable. Choosing to risk often is unreasonable and even seems foolish but is necessary if we are to exercise faith. For it is in risking loss that we gain, risking failure that we succeed, and risking exposure that we come to know who we actually are.
Fear clearly throttles opportunity for growth and service. But this is not the greatest risk with fear. Ultimately fear poses a risk to faith. Because fear can curb our faith, thwart our love, and destroy our hope, it is the risk of all risks. Ironically, the pathogen that neutralizes faith can only be cured by faith. Fear opposes faith, but only faith turns away our fears. Fear paralyzes our ability to act in faith, while faith alone liberates us to choose wider, deeper purposes. The risk of fear can only be counter by the choice of faith. Thus, the opportunity to risk is a wonderful gift that afford us the chance to say Yes to faith.