Safety has been on my mind lately – perhaps yours as well. At every turn, safety becomes one of the first criteria I use to make a decision. Should I go into this store? Should I spend time with this person? Should I go home and visit my family? Should I stop to get gas here or wait until I am closer to home? Should I lick this envelope to close it or use water? Should I shake hands with this person I am meeting the first time? Ridiculous as it sounds, these are real dialogues taking place in my brain lately. Decisions that were once completely subconscious in nature have become loaded ethical choices.
It is exhausting to have to look at everything, and most everyone, as a threat to my safety. But, as my brain shrewdly counters, it is prudent. It is wise to be careful. I need to cover my bases and be diligent in all things out of consideration and love for others. I am responsible for myself, and I am responsible for doing everything I can to protect those I love.
Unfortunately, I am beginning to think this commitment to safety is a whole lot more about me than about loving my neighbor. I am also beginning to think this preoccupation with safety has roots in my heart from long before this pandemic.
“The measure of your life will be the measure of your courage.”Matthew Kelly
I remember reading this quote in my dorm freshman year of college. I loved it. After reading it, I remember asking Jesus to keep it on my heart and give me the grace and courage to always give Him my ‘yes’ even in the face of fear or the unknown.
I am not sure when courage became replaced by self-preservation and avoidance of the uncomfortable became a substitute for abandonment to the Holy Spirit.
I want to be clear: I am basically a conductor on the ‘wear a mask and social distance!’ train, but as I have reflected on my obsession with being safe and careful during this pandemic, I recognize a pattern within myself that has been at work for many years. I have made an idol out of safety. Like most idols in our lives, safety is not an inherently bad thing to desire. It is normal, natural, and even wise to seek to be safe and secure. However, like most idols, safety is a good thing I have made into an ultimate thing.
Making safety an idol in my heart has manifested itself in many ways. It has kept me from telling a guy that I like him because it’s safer to never bring it up and face the potential rejection. It has kept me from giving honest, loving feedback to people for fear of losing the relationship if I am honest. It has kept me from fully encountering the spiritually and physically poor. It has restricted me in my desire to stand for justice and principles because it is safer to not rock the boat.
Most bothersome to me though, is my idol of safety has distorted the way I understand the love of God and how it manifests itself in my life.
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”Luke 17:33
Being loved by God does not mean always being safe in worldly terms. In fact, in Matthew 10, Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” I do not have any personal experience as a sheep, but that does not sound like an ideal setup.
By holding safety as an idol in my life, every time that safety is threatened, I perceive it as a lack of protection and providence from the Father. This prevents me from receiving the events of my life with courage and peace, knowing everything that happens passes through the hands of a loving Father. It results in me losing my peace any time the safety of myself or someone I love is threatened.
I am reminded of my favorite moment in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. At the very end of “The Horse and His Boy,” Shasta is reflecting on all of the times his safety was threatened during his dangerous journey to save King Lune from invaders. Shasta is accusing Aslan of abandoning him and failing to provide protection in the moments he felt most in danger. Aslan replies: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
The very moments when Shasta felt most at risk and vulnerable were the moments when Aslan was nearest to him, providing for his exact situation. It was because of the dangers, risks, and moments of courage along the way that Shasta was able to fulfill his mission and purpose.
“I would rather be at the center of God’s will, surrounded by a raging storm, than in the dry, safe, desert of my own will.”
While the world is full of real and legitimate threats to our safety, St. Paul makes it very clear how we are to think about these things in his letter to the Romans:
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?. . . No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 8:35-39
As long as we rest in the safety of the love of God, we can rest secure, and St. Paul makes it quite clear nothing can separate us from this love. As I move forward with this insight about myself, I will seek to demonstrate courage and boldness in my relationships, prayer, and work. I will reflect on whether my prayers center on being safe or on being His. As I pray, I’ll seek to continue to say in all things, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!
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