May 8, 2007
Taking a Risk
A couple of weekends ago I watched the movie Stranger Than Fiction for a second time, which made me realize something I'm not sure I want to admit: I think I might have some strong similarities to the main character, Harold Crick. Harold is a strait-laced tax auditor whose days are essentially exactly the same, right down to the number of brushstrokes he uses when brushing his teeth. (No, I don't count my brushstrokes. That's not how we're similar.) His neatly ordered world starts to fall apart, however, when he begins to hear a woman's voice in his head, narrating his life. Things start to get really messy when the woman's voice casually mentions his "imminent death." Spurred to action at the mention of the d-word, Harold sets out to locate his narrator so that he can get the details on when and how she expects him to die.
As his routine gets more and more messed up, and as the pressure mounts to figure out when he'll die, Harold decides he might as well take a few risks (since he's going to die soon anyway). Perhaps the biggest risk he takes is pursuing a spunky, defiant baker named Ana Pascal who mostly despises him because he happens to be auditing her for tax fraud. Despite the unlikelihood of any romance developing between them, and despite the high possibility of her responding to him with scorn and mockery, he shows up unexpectedly at her bakery one night with a box of flours (infinitely more valuable to a baker than flowers) and announces his romantic interest. The significance of his risk, the tension as he waits for her to respond, is almost palpable.
So here's how I'm like Harold Crick: I think it would take an audible, narrating voice in my head and the threat of imminent death (or maybe even just one of those things) to make me take a risk. I like routine and predictability. On the thrill-seeking scale I'm probably about a negative sixteen. I don't even go to lunch spontaneously (though I am, of course, up for the occasional spontaneous Starbucks run).
I wish I took risks more often. I'm inspired and moved by people who take big risks. People like the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. She approached Jesus and his disciples with a request for help, knowing that they had every reason to reject her: She was a woman in a male-centered culture. She was a Gentile. And her daughter was demon-possessed, which probably didn't win her any popularity contests. The disciples, being human, provided the expected, culturally savvy reaction: they saw her only as an annoyance, a distraction, and urged Jesus to send her away. He, however, engaged her in conversation, even pushed her a bit to see how serious she was about receiving help for her daughter. In the end, Jesus was impressed with her. "Woman," he exclaimed, "you have great faith! Your request is granted."
As far as we know, this woman had never met Jesus before. Most likely she had only heard about him and his miracles from others. And the risks she took in asking Jesus for help and in taking him at his word that her daughter was healed could have caused her deep pain. After all, Jesus could have just been telling her what she wanted to hear without actually granting her request, to get her to leave him alone.
Well of course Jesus didn't mock or deceive her, you're thinking, shocked that I'd even suggest it. He wouldn't, because he isn't like us needy broken humans. But many times, I must subconsciously think he might respond to me that way, because I'm not usually willing to take risks that make me completely dependent on Christ for help. Risks like telling a small group about a painful but formational event that happened before I knew them. Or being honest with a student in the youth group about something she did that hurt me. Or even taking opportunities to test areas I think I might be gifted in but have insecurities about. But when we take Jesus seriously, he, I'm learning, takes our risks seriously, no matter how small. He doesn't scorn those steps; he actually celebrates them. And he always does what he says he'll do, knowing full well (because he did become human, like us) how hard a risk can be.
Sitting here, I don't have any "imminent death" threats to move me to take a risk. And no voices in my head narrating my life. But maybe the promise of abundant life from someone who always keeps his word will be enough.