In our culture, safety has become an idol for many. The most important desire for most parents is that their kids (including adult children) are safe. A number of students over the years have told me of their parents’ anxiety when they return from a visit home. They want them to be safe. Parents of little children often do all they can to protect their children from injury on a playground; safety is their most critical concern.
I can almost hear many parents exclaiming, “Of course! That is what a parent’s responsibility is! Duh!” And I don’t disagree for the most part. Obviously, parents are to watch over their kids and protect them. However, there are two rubs to this when this is done overzealously. First, it deprives children of the opportunities to develop resilience in life. Suffering, as the Apostle Paul writes, “…produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”(Romans 5:4) The potential of falling down and scraping a knee is no cause to intervene in such a way as to communicate it is a terrible thing and you make sure it doesn’t happen again. Rather, these minor “sufferings” enable them to develop courage rather than fear. It teaches them to embrace risk rather than avoid it. Of course, I’m not talking in terms of life-altering risks for young children, but rather the normal risks of everyday life like riding a bike, climbing a tree, or playing on a playground. Even walking to school at times. The true risk of child abduction is infinitesimal, particularly if the child is with a group of children—only one percent are non-family abductions.
Secondly, from my experience downstream on the college campus, many parents continue their practice of attempting to protect their emerging adults from risk. Almost every overseas mission trip I have ever led involves at least one set of parents objecting to their child participating because of the perceived risk. I remember one father lecturing me on how little I knew about the dangers of going to a certain country, even though I had been there nearly a half a dozen of times. He did not let his daughter go, and we went and returned safely without any issues.
This really becomes critical when the Lord calls young men and women to places that many parents would not deem safe. Should mom and dad intervene to “protect” their children from the Lord’s calling? If you do not trust your adult child with these decisions, what does that say about your trust in the Lord and your trust in your child?
If we even do a shallow reading of the Gospels, it is clear that the road of following Jesus is not a safe one, at least as most of us understand safety. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him. I have often told students that to grasp better what that means, they should substitute “electric chair” for “cross.” The cross was a Roman instrument of execution, not a shiny thing some wear around their necks. Jesus also declared that anyone who seeks to save his own life will lose it, but that anyone who loses his life for him will save it. Doesn’t sound very safe to me.
I am afraid what we in America have done to Christianity is to sanitize it of any danger. We instead have created for ourselves, and our children, a “safe” religion. We often refuse a faith that requires trusting in God for the particulars of our lives; rather, we make many of our choices based on our preferences or fears, and then ask the Lord to bless them. Or we just do as we please without seeking out the Lord’s will. I recall a late colleague in ministry who used to quote Romans 12:1 and then said, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they want to crawl off the altar.”
In a word, to follow Jesus is a sacrifice, a sacrifice of our wants, our dreams, and, yes, our fears. He wants us to crawl up onto that altar with our entire lives and remain there, trusting him that his will is best, whether that be with our job, our plans, our money, or our children. To quote C.S. Lewis’ Mr. Beaver when talking about Aslan, “ ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
“Follow me,” Jesus said. Is it safe? ‘Course not. It never has been, nor did he intend it to be.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.