A couple weeks ago I watched as three deer walked across the ice on our lake. There was a path they often take. We’ve seen this every winter. It’s a shortcut. But in late winter it becomes a risky venture. A couple years ago, one of the deer broke through. It was too late in the year and the ice too fragile. That one died there in the freezing water. I didn’t see it happen. I am glad I didn’t. As soon as the ice was gone our neighbor, Darrell, and I went out to remove the floating carcass from the still icy water. It was a messy job. We pulled it to shore onto a tarp, and then up into his pickup bed. Then we went off deep into the woods to dispose of the deer. It was a sad affair.
Thinking about that deer gets me thinking of the risks I take. Life is full of all kinds of risks. Some are good and some are not. I need to consider which ones are worth taking. Many of us feel we are at real risk when we get on a plane to travel. You can see the white knuckles gripping the arm rests during takeoff. But the fact is, according to accident statistics, we are at much greater risk every time we travel by car on the highway. The deer take the risk walking on the ice every year for the advantage of a shorter route. It makes me wonder how many times I have taken a risk on the highway that might have been fatal, just for the convenience of arriving somewhere a few minutes earlier.
I can risk indulging in too much of my favorite food or drink. Health problems accumulate just like interest on a loan. Everybody knows that money invested wisely has a lower risk, but there is always some risk! Every time a farmer puts seed in the ground, he or she knows there is a risk of losing the money and effort they put in. I may choose to spend a couple dollars for a lottery ticket in the faint hope of winning a big bunch of money. But if I make that a habit, I risk throwing away quite a bit of money I may need for something much better. Maybe I will need it to help someone in need. Of course, giving away money to help someone in need is a risk, too, if it is not used well. But it’s probably a better risk. Oh - all these risks!
I risk losing my wife’s affection if I give myself so completely to a hobby, or TV shows, or some other distraction to such a degree that I have no time or energy to listen to her conversation, her concerns, her needs. That is one risk I want to avoid.
Jesus is a great risk taker. Jesus took the risk that going to the cross and dying would actually change our hearts. I appreciate that risk so much! And he gave this advice, too, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36-38 NLT) That’s all about risk.
Taking up a cross sounds risky to me. But on the other hand, if I don’t look for that cross, and ignore what it means for me to follow Jesus on any particular day, I am risking something much greater.
I want to take risks, really good risks, not like the foolish deer. I want to choose the better risk following the one who understands the heights and depths of life, its crosses, and the risks worth taking for him. Then I will have a life that is really alive. It’s risky.