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Today, I Want to…
…Risk Something Worth Protecting
What? I want to risk something worth protecting? What is that about? Our first thought is if something is worth protecting, I don’t want to risk it at all. I want to lock it up, keep it covered, keep it away from grasping hands.
However, this statement makes me think of an illustration I recently read in N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus. While talking about a completely different subject, he spoke about his trip to the Louvre and his desire to see the Mona Lisa. Listen to what he said:
“In October of 1998 my wife and I went to Paris for a conference, and in a spare moment we visited the Louvre. It was the first time either of us had been there. A disappointment awaited us: the Mona Lisa, which every good tourist goes to goggle at, is not only as enigmatic ash she has always been but following a violent attack is now behind thick glass. All attempts to look into those famous eyes, to face the famous questions as to what they are meaning and whether this meaning is really there or is being imposed by the viewers, are befogged by glimpses of other eyes—one’s own, and dozens more besides—reflected back from the protective casing.”*
Is the Mona Lisa worth protecting? I’m sure most of us would say it is. But something has been lost by the protection. Better to risk the Mona Lisa and let the multitudes goggle and grow by the experience than protect it and hinder the public’s betterment. Perhaps we see here it is better to protect the experience and not just the painting.
I also think of the ancient proverbialist’s words in Proverbs 14:4. “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Solomon, if he was indeed the author of this proverb, understood that progress comes by risking things we want to protect. We prefer a clean manger. But when we keep our manger clean from the oxen, then our crops are not going to be very good. After all, letting oxen do the work will produce a much larger crop than doing it all myself. In this case, the farmer wanted to protect his manger. However, he needed to risk it by sheltering and feeding his oxen there to reap the even greater rewards.
Our Protection Often Limits Intimacy
The situation that really comes to mind as I wrestle with this resolution is the area of relationships. I need relationships. I want to protect those relationships. Apart from my relationship with God, my most important relationship is with my wife. That relationship needs protecting. I don’t want to risk that relationship at all.
Sadly, my protection often leads to codependence. It leads to me trying so hard to fix things in her because I fear what others will think that she becomes angry with me and a wedge is driven between us. What I’ve found is when I let her live her life and do her job her way and then provide support no matter what anyone else says, that is when we draw the closest. When she makes mistakes, she learns from them just like I learn from mine. When I let her risk instead of trying to preemptively protect her, we usually draw closer.
The codependence leads me to cover up things about myself I’m afraid will turn her away from me. Sadly, the secrets lead me to isolation and I push her away anyway. Granted, one day I may have to pass on a secret that will cause Marita to turn away from me. I hope not. But it may happen. However, up to now, letting myself be vulnerable with her has only ever drawn us closer. Revealing what is going on inside me or in my dark moments is a scary thing. I usually want to protect the relationship and keep those things hidden. But as our recovering friends warn us, we are only as sick as our deepest secrets. When we share those secrets we are risking the relationships, but the rewards when the relationships survive are phenomenal.
When I think about risking relationships I want to protect, I think about my children. I so want to protect them from all the evil that is out there. The top of the list is sexual evil. For the longest time, my approach to protecting them was to hide sex from them as much as possible and then scare the daylights out of them about the rest of it. However, I realized the hiding only produces curiosity and the fear only produces rebellion, at least, that is what it did for me. But if I don’t hide it from them, I’m risking their innocence and that, to me, is definitely worth protecting.
No, I’m not suggesting we invite our children to watch pornography or send them out on dates with contraceptive devices. But I am saying I have to learn that sometimes my protection actually puts what I’m afraid to risk at greater risk. I have to learn to risk those things that are worth protecting.
It is like our little baby’s health. Have you even thought about what we are doing when we immunize our children? We are actually introducing a disease into our baby’s body in order to protect them. We are placing them at risk in order to protect them. Sadly, in some cases the risk takes place and we spend the rest of our lives condemning ourselves for taking the risk. That is why you will always find websites condemning immunizations. However, there is no argument that immunizations have lowered, in fact, nearly eradicated some diseases in our kids. We need to learn that instead of isolating our children, we should inoculate them. Is it a risk? Absolutely. But in my experience isolation is an even bigger risk because we simply aren’t so good as to completely isolate our children from everything.
Growing through Risk
Another story that comes to my mind is Jesus’ story about the talents found in Matthew 25. A master gave five talents to one servant, two talents to another, and one talent to a third. By the way, the footnote in my Bible says a talent was a monetary sum worth about 20 years wages to the common laborer. Can you imagine being given 20 years of your salary in one lump sum? What would you do with it? The man who had been give 100 years of salary and the man who had been given 40 years of salary both risked their talents. They bought and sold and traded until they had generated twice what they started with. The third man hid his talent. Think about it. That seems wise to some of us. At least he didn’t fritter it away on eating out, depreciating gizmos, and self-seeking pursuits. He protected it. When the master returned, the man gave him back his talent. The master, however, was not happy. He didn’t give the man the talent so that when he returned he could get one talent back. If he had wanted that, he could have kept the talent with him. He gave the servant the talent to produce a profit. He called this servant wicked and slothful.
Ouch! That hurts. Sometimes, what we want to claim is preservation and protection is actually nothing more than fear. We fear rejection so we don’t risk our egos. Sadly, we then spend all our time feeling inadequate because we never accomplish anything. We fear betrayal so we don’t risk entering a relationship. Sadly, we miss out on the joys of strong friendships and love, living out our lives in loneliness and empty pursuits. We fear conflict so we don’t risk sharing our opinions and feelings. Sadly, we seethe in bitterness and resentment until the conflicts erupt in proportions too great to control.
Sometimes what we want to claim is preservation and protection is actually nothing more than laziness. The five and two talent men actually went to work with their talents. They had to buy and sell, that took research, time, planning, and skill. I’m sure investing then was like it is today. Nobody ever bats 1000. They had to make up when they lost what they risked. The one talent man didn’t have to work. He just hid the talent and could sit on his behind.
I hope you don’t think this is too crass, but I have to share a poem I first heard from John Maxwell.
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some strange prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
“But Lord, they are too big for feet.”
“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you along.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt.”
“Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”
Let’s face it. Relationships take work. It is a lot easier to be disconnected. As Simon and Garfunkel sang, “A rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” Why work on a relationship when it means risking so much pain? Accomplishment takes work. Too many of us want to sit on our rears and hope that God will drop some major accomplishment in our laps. It just won’t happen. Why risk looking the fool when you can shoot for nothing and no one will ever notice? Leadership takes work. It is a lot easier to be the low man on the totem pole. It isn’t your reputation on the line when you are just the rummy. Why shoot to lead others when it means risking so much if you fail?
Why risk? Because the relationships that can produce the greatest pain can also produce the greatest happiness. And as Garth Brooks sang, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” Because only those who brave looking like a fool in front of the masses ever accomplish anything worthwhile. Consider the simple task of writing a poem or a book. If you only ever fear that others will not want to read your book, you’ll never have the satisfaction of getting one done. Because leadership means we can accomplish things through others we could never accomplish on our own. Nobody ever became President without risking his entire reputation. Perhaps we don’t look nearly as bad as any of our Presidents have ever been made to look by their enemies, but then we’ve never led the known world to anything of consequence. Why risk? Because whether we succeed or fail the growth and accomplishment we attain is really worth it and helps us press on to bigger and greater things.
I know you want to protect something. But God has given us our greatest blessings in order to risk them. Not so we could lose them. But rather, through the risking we may grow and are able to give back to our society and to Him great things.
Therefore, today, I want to risk something worth protecting because in reality, only when I risk do I grow and gain the true fulfillment out of God’s gifts.
(Come back next Wednesday to learn about Listening to Something Worth Hearing.)