What would you choose: a steamboat ride on the Mississippi or white water rafting in the mountains?
Before we attempt to answer this question, let’s take a step back and listen to this invitation from Pope Francis in a recent letter to young people:
“Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.”
Taking risks isn’t always the most appealing prospect for us. A quick dictionary search for “risk” brings up some fairly daunting connotations:
- possibility of loss or injury: peril
- someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard
- the chance of loss or the perils to the subject matter of an insurance contract
If taking risks can be so dangerous, why even bother? Why get out of our comfort zone to make “bold choices” as Pope Francis is asking? Perhaps it would help to listen to some testimonies of those who have taken risks, and haven’t regretted them:
As one young man writes: “The riskiest thing I ever did was get married: it was a leap of faith, an act of trust in that person and in God.” Another woman shares how she had to risk going against her family’s wishes to marry the man she loved, and though their child ended up having Down’s syndrome, she still didn’t regret having taken that risk, but has sought to entrust herself to the Lord and to Mary’s maternal care.
Hearing various testimonies, it seems that the driving motivation in taking risks boils down to pursuing love and relationship in some form. The biggest risks people shared with me didn’t involve skydiving or extreme sports, but rather vulnerability and trust.
“The risks always involved my heart and sense of identity more than anything else,” writes one young woman. Another one shares how she took a leap of faith when she opened up about her battle with depression: “It was a risky prospect because at the time, seeking help and disclosing some of the dark thoughts I was having meant that I would be referred to an inpatient hospital program for young adults.” But she didn’t regret that act of trust, because it helped her go on to finish her degree and land her dream job.
Trust. Vulnerability. Relationship.
So what does all this mean for us as followers of Jesus Christ? What does it look like to take risks for God? How do we make those “bold choices” that Pope Francis was talking about?
We can find inspiration from the narratives of the great patriarchs and prophets recounted in God’s Word. The Old Testament is full of stories of men and women who were called by God to live a new mission, forge a surprising path, and take unexpected risks. The prophet Jeremiah is just one example, and many of us can probably relate to his story:“The word of the LORD came to me thus:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
‘Ah, Lord GOD!’ I said,
‘I know not how to speak; I am too young.’” (Jer. 1:4-6)
Recognizing our limits and our poverty can paralyze us with fear. We can doubt our ability to follow and serve the Lord. We fear failure. But it is then when the Lord comes to lift up our heads, meet His loving gaze, and remind us: I am calling you. I’ll give you the grace.
That’s how Jeremiah went forward. He admits he even tried to stop talking about God; he tried to forget the Lord and stop prophesying, but he just couldn’t resist: “But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (Jer. 20:9).
Only the fire of God’s love can motivate us to take those important risks in life.
As Pope Francis reiterates: “Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: ‘Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you to deliver you’ (Jer. 1:8).”
Or as one famous adage puts it: “God doesn’t call the equipped — He equips the called!”
Of course, taking risks in life does come with a cost at times. We really can end up wounded or disappointed. If we’re disciples of Jesus, we will need to pick up our cross as we follow Him. The question can arise: is it really worth it? Is it really worth it to spend two years as a missionary? Is it really worth it to leave behind marital intimacy and children because I feel called to the priesthood? Is it really worth it to say “I do” forever? Is it really worth it to leave my job and live on my spouses’ income in order to spend more time with the kids? Is it really worth it to become a permanent deacon to serve the Church?
We are faced with big questions and choices that challenge us to grow in courage and trust. So, going back to our open question on white river rafting versus a steamboat ride: which would you chose?
This was the question that God placed before me as I was preparing to take my own vows as an Apostle of the Interior Life. Especially during the final months leading up to my profession, I was grappling with fears and doubts. The tempter was really trying to get me to believe the lie that I wasn’t cut out for the consecrated life: “What kind of sister do you think you are?” But the Lord met me in my fears with a powerful image. As my vows were approaching and I knew that “this was it”, I instinctively felt almost trapped: I was no longer just “in discernment”, no longer just “in formation”. It was time to say yes. No back doors to creep out of, no open windows to escape from.
As I prayed with this realization that the time had come to say my “yes”, it reminded me of the banks of a river slowly becoming more and more narrow. Whereas I had a world of possibilities before me during my college years, in order to say “yes” to this vocation, to this community, to this particular call, I had to say “no” to a lot of those former options.From going to a nice, comfortable, easy steamboat ride on the Mississippi, I now found myself in the narrow, rushing stream of a mountain pass.
But then I realized: yes, this journey may seem scarier at first, but compared to that slow, lazy river, these waters have direction; they’re moving, there’s life here, there’s adventure. There’s energy. There’s an adventure worth living. There’s love to discover. There’s a Guide taking me through it. There’s risk in faithfulness to a call, and I want to take it.
That rushing river went from being daunting, to being exciting and inviting and rewarding. And I just knew deep down: yes, this is worth it. I’m in.
During our personal prayer, we can bring one of these questions to the Lord:
- Think back to a risk you took: Jesus, was it worth it? Why?
- Pray with the story of Jeremiah (Jer. chapters 1 and 20): Lord, are you calling me to something great? Something new and unexpected? Am I holding back in any way? Why?
- Pray with the following passage from C.S. Lewis: Have I ever locked my heart away? Lord, is there a relationship in which you are asking me to be more vulnerable?
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves