"Protectiveness has become a way of life in our culture--and an argument can be made that much of it is, on balance, a good thing. No one wants his or her child playing with a toy coated in harmful substances or mistreated by an unqualified childcare worker. But it should not surprise us that our culture's obsession with safety has shaped two generations of Boomer and Buster parents who are deeply risk-averse when it comes to our kids.
When I read these lines I immediately felt guilty, but it wasn't personal guilt. After all, my child is only 3 years old and at 2 years old we were conquering sliding boards and swinging high and even crossing the street to walk the side walk on the other side. To be fair, my wife and I use carseats (yes plural) and we are "protective" of our little girl, but somewhere between the age of my daughter and the age of my college students - WHAT HAPPENS? My friend Jeff Jones from the Univeristy of Memphis Baptist Collegiate Ministries just Tweeted a reminder to his students to turn in their mission forms:
DEADLINE AT MIDNIGHT tonight to apply for summer missions at http://sendtnmissions.org . Don't waste your summer on video games #realmodernwarfare
I loved this Tweet because I realized in this moment that I am not alone! Are we raising a bunch of video game junkies, I mean, it is safe in the den with a controller in your hand, but I wonder what Christ would think about that life style in which we spend hours on our entertainment and a few minutes on everything else? How does Jesus' appeal to "take up the cross and follow me" find a footing this this world of protectiveness? What about the encouragement to his disciples that "those who lose their life for my sake will find it?" We must wonder if those who fill our churches are there because they like the safe environment the church provides...and for some reason that makes me cringe!
But then there are the other kids - chomping at the bit to get free - because the world is full of adventure and fun and the church is too busy buying into this culture of protection. This may be a bold statement, but one of the biggest hurdles facing the church right now is our desire to keep everyone safe and happy. I'll explore the happiness side of this equation soon in a post, but we must add adventure to our experience of Christianity.
When my child was almost a year old, I boarded a plane to Liberia with a group of college students who had talked me into going on a mission trip to an orphanage called Safe Home. We were told upon arrival that we were the first group of Americans to travel outside of Monrovia since the civil war. (If you don't know about the Liberian civil war - click here to read more.) I was scared. I was scared because I was the adult male leader who, if something happened, would probably happen to me. I was scared to leave my family at home. I was scared of malaria and weird animals and that I would run out of sunscreen. But what I received, unbelievable! I have friends in Africa, and they have been such a blessing to me. I learned what hospitality truly meant by being served by Alfred every day. And I went back, and I went back again. Because we are expecting a baby this summer, I cannot go this year, but next year it is on!
Here's the point: We must believe that God is worth the risks we take for Him, and we must allow God to prove that He can be trusted to provide in all circumstances (even the ones that go terribly wrong).
I didn’t know Ryan Woods, or Jessica. I didn’t know the boy he was or the student he was or the father he was or the husband he was like some people did. I was introduced to Ryan through a video two days before he died. I was so moved by that video that I sat at my desk and weeped for about 20 minutes. I called a minister friend of mine after I had calmed down, I called him angry at God for letting this happen to a guy dedicated to God. On Tuesday night I talked to my wife, telling her some things I don’t say that often, reminding her who she is in my life. Telling her that I was sorry about being stressed out over the news of a baby instead of being filled with wonder.
Perhaps, meeting Ryan on November 5th of this year was exactly what I needed. Perhaps his death reminded me how to live. Hearing him say that the “dreams” he and Jessica have are enough to warrant just a few more years broke my heart. Not only because I was sad for he and his beautiful family, but here I was with a few more years, and I wasn’t living in the peaceful joy of it all, which is often the case with all of us.
One of Ryan’s most quoted saying is this, “We are all in the process of dying. The question is: what kind of story are you going to live out while you are dying?” He tells us to live the beautiful story and to make beautiful music with our lives.
I think I know why sinners loved Jesus. I think Jesus was dying long before he was tried and nailed to a cross. I think Jesus lived in the reality that death is the only option, and that reality gave life to everyone he encountered. I’m not sure how I have missed this for 33 years, but when someone is dying, they begin to instantly get priorities right.
For Ryan, he signed birthday cards for his kids (ages 4 and 7ish) and talked with Jessica about what to get them for their 16th birthday. He started letters of thanks to his mom, dad, wife, and friends. He admitted, “Dying has taught me so much about life, how to be a better dad, a better husband, a better lover of people, a better man.
In regards to crying he said, “It feels good to cry. It feels appropriate, it feels like I”m doing the right thing, like I can’t be judged for crying–I can only be loved. And I desperately want to be loved. Sometimes when I cry, when I really cry and cry hard, I’m honestly just in search of confirmation that I’m not simply wasting time here dinking around waiting to die. The thing is, I think you never feel more human than when you are dying. And that’s an emotional and painful place to be.”
So, what have I learned. If we can teach people how to die long before they actually do, then they will be free to live the life of Christ in absolute freedom. That starts with me. Most of the stuff I care about would go out the window the day I was told I was dying... because most of it focuses on my opinions, my reputation, my ego, and my future.
So here’s a start:
I want my church family to love me, but I want lost people to love me more.
I want to make sure my wife and children know how loved they are by me. (I have started email accounts for my kids so I can pass along love notes and tell them how proud I am of them)
I want my co-workers to know how thankful I am for the beauty of their lives, and the beautiful death they are in the process of, and whatever time we have together, let’s start enjoying it more, right now!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.