Risk is usually associated with daredevils and thrill-seekers. The real danger, we are often told, is a life of boredom. The struggle is between the bland and the bold.
Yet, as James Baldwin reminds us, it’s not quite that simple. He places commitment, not thrills, at the center of the game. For him, the ones to be admired are not so much the daredevils as the dedicated ones. And that Holy Grail? Well, he suggests, maybe it’s not “the exciting life’ as we’ve been told. Maybe it’s the faithful life.
That perspective turns everything on its head.
Then, the important question about risk in life is not: “Are you willing to jump off?” Instead, it is: “Are you willing to jump in?” Risk is not: “Are you willing to put yourself in danger?” It is: “Are you willing to give yourself to something bigger?” Risk is not: “Will you be daring?” It is: “Will you stay true?”
It’s all about remembering not to let the thrilling trump the faithful. As exciting as roller coasters and jumping out of planes might be, let’s remember to remind each other that the most deeply rewarding risks are the ones that involve putting our hearts in the hands of others and jumping into causes. As the poet David Whyte puts it: “We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds.” Bob Marley’s take is equally compelling. He writes, “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
Here’s another twist: It’s not just Baldwin’s dangers, Whyte’s hazards and Marley’s suffering that come at us when we take the risk of living faithfully. Grace and gifts slip in there too! As the Scottish writer W.H. Murray explains, “Concerning all acts of creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way.”
How thrilling is that?!