Today, on Valentine’s Day, I picked up an old “Magnolia Journal” which I have carried around in my book bag for nearly a year without taking the time to read. A big quote page drew me in. It asked: “If fear wasn’t part of the equation, how would your life look different?” The article, a short half page, was written by Chip Gaines. It’s no surprise that he would be encouraging the world to risk failure. In his funny antics he does it on most every episode of Fixer Upper—jumping off of precipices, bursting through walls, trying for the impossible basketball shot or attempting to pick up too-heavy objects. He lets his failures be fun and entertaining.
For me living from the “fear triad” of the Enneagram, “Failure” is a terrifying word—something to be avoided at all costs. Something primal in me tells me, though I wouldn’t usually acknowledge it, that if I fail in an attempt, I am the failure. Of course, I know that isn’t correct, but it is my default modus operandi as I approach life.
“Fear-less”[i] is the name of Chip’s article and, as a wordsmith, I love the twist of turning an adjective into a verb-adverb and thus to receive a subtle shift in paradigm. This is exemplified again in Chip’s statement: “The courage to take your shot is half the battle. The other half? Viewing failure as a teacher and not an enemy.”
Risk, courage, and potential failure arise continually. Valentine’s Day is a day of risk:
Sending a Valentine
Asking for a date
Saying “Yes” to an invitation to a date
Saying no to an invite
Not getting married
Not loving anyone
Initiating a Friendship
Watching the winter Olympics I’m always amazed at the number of courageous athletes. Really what they’re doing over and over and over is risking failure. Of all the competitors, what are the odds of getting the gold? And even for the medal winners, they are up on the podium only because they’ve allowed failure to teach them through multiple previous failed attempts at their sport.
Now my rational mind immediately can bring up exceptions to fearlessness such as when the consequences of failure are grave. As mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal pointed out in his “wager” that it is staggeringly more risky not to believe in God than to believe in him: “I would have far more fear of being mistaken and of finding that the Christian religion was true, than of not being mistaken in believing it true.”[ii] This is not the kind of fearlessness I choose to embrace.
On the other hand, yearly, monthly, daily I make decisions not to risk. I choose “safe” often over living life to the fullest, over fearing the possibility of failure, and in doing so I miss opportunities, adventure, and even life lessons. I know that:
The sun still shines—after I fail.
People still love me—after I fail.
I love myself—after I fail.
God loves me—after I fail.
I really like the book of Proverbs of the Bible. I’m re-reading it now in The Message[iii] and seeing passages with new eyes, hearing with new ears. Proverbs comes right up to us and tells us to Fear! “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom….” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV) The Message puts it this way: “Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God….” But the same book of Proverbs also tells us to be bold and risk everything to find wisdom. “Sell everything and buy Wisdom. Forage for Understanding…Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom!” As Blaise Pascal alluded to—there is big risk in not choosing God. The God of love, peace, grace, and mercy gives us a choice. Fear of God or Denial of God. “Lady Wisdom” asks to be our filter—our first filter on whether to risk or what to risk. The fear-of-God need be our main fear— “bowing down to God”; “paying attention” to God: “Lady Wisdom will be your close friend, and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion. Good Sense will scout ahead for danger. Insight will keep an eye out for you. They’ll keep you from making wrong turns….” They’ll keep you from risking what shouldn’t be risked. “Carelessness kills; complacency is murder. First pay attention to me, and then relax. Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”[iv]
For some of us predisposed to fear, we hear the first part of that verse but forget the 2nd. We—I—forget the part about, “then relax. Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”
Living life is taking risks. Living, abiding in, dwelling in safety by choosing to climb up into the lap, the embrace, the love of God, frees us to relax–frees us to walk forward fearlessly toward joy and peace, beauty, fun and adventure, and yes, even walk forward through failure and loss—because we can choose not to ever risk letting go of the One who is Love and the Love will not let go of us.[v]
[i] Magnolia Journal, A Look at Risk, Summer 2021, page 116-117
[ii] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 241
[iii] God, Eugene Peterson, The Message, translation of The Bible
[iv] Excerpts from The Message, Proverbs
[v] Romans 8:35-39