Safe or Not?
Sometimes I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I LOVE being a Mom, and everything that goes along with it. I love going to volleyball games and choir concerts. I love being the one she wants to come to when she is giddy with excitement or devastated by a loss (I don't love the loss part, just the "being the one she wants to come to" part). I love taking her to school in the mornings. I’m pretty sure we have had our best conversations in the car. There have been times when we have come pretty close to solving many of the world’s problems while sitting at stoplights or in the parking lot that masquerades as a “freeway”. At other times, we’re both in pensive sort of moods and we just enjoy listening to music together. I love being able to pray both with her and for her about what the day holds. I wouldn’t trade those times in the car for anything.
When John’s schedule allowed him to start sharing the morning drive-to-school time with me, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to give that precious time up. Allison is almost 15 and I am painfully aware of how short the time is until she will be asking for the car keys instead of getting in on the passenger side. But, I am reluctantly learning to let her Dad share in that time with her. And I have managed to find ways to use those few extra minutes in the morning after I send them off with a hug.
Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I actually go back to bed. I have even been known to get completely ready for work, including putting my shoes on, and then I crawl back under the covers. Fully dressed and ready, I know I can sleep until two minutes before I have to walk out the door. I usually jolt awake just at the right time, smooth out my clothes, brush my hair, and somehow feel like I have gotten away with something decadent. (I know, if that is what I consider decadent, I lead a very simple life.)
On other mornings, the ones following a better night’s sleep, I use this time to check in on Facebook. This option has its own little routine attached to it. A can of Diet Coke moves from the fridge to the freezer. After about eight to ten minutes, it is at the perfect point of icy coldness. Some caffeine lovers look forward to the sound of their coffee percolating in the mornings. For me, it is the sound of that metal pop-top flipping open that says “today just might turn out okay after all.” I carry my slightly frozen treasure into the office and sit down at the computer.
There are several reasons why I enjoy checking in on Facebook first thing in the morning. Several special friends post Bible verses almost every morning and I can usually find words of encouragement and joy there. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the time of day when my favorite author/”friend-who-I’ve-never met”, John Lynch, usually posts. His writings almost always make me cry because they speak of God’s grace in ways that I am just now, at the age of 51, learning to breathe in. Sometimes his whimsical descriptions of things make me laugh. You can read his musings for yourself at www.truefaced.com.
So on a morning not too long ago, I was excited to see a post from him. And I was even more excited when, upon glancing at it, I noticed that he was quoting one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this excerpt, the young girl Lucy is asking about Aslan the lion, who represents Christ.
"Is he—quite safe?" she asks.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
(Chapter 8 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
After quoting this passage, John Lynch goes on to say that he has always liked this quote, but now is finding it doesn’t feel right. Because the Jesus He knows is always, ultimately safe.
At the risk of sounding a little bit dramatic, my world felt slightly shaken. I have loved that passage since the day I first read it and have even used it when telling “my story”. But there was a part of me that also resonated with what John was saying.
So I began to wrestle with this. Is God safe or not? He must be one or the other, right?
I, like John, have found Jesus to be so very safe. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He is always protecting, always loving, always nurturing. Always. When the Bible describes Him as a refuge, a strongtower, a shelter, a shield . . . those aren’t just words to me. I have experienced Him that way. That is who I know Him to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt. And there is never a time when He is not those things. Never a time when He is not safe. So why do C.S. Lewis’s words, “Course He isn’t safe, but He’s good”, resonate so deeply with me?
I think it is because, I have to admit, there are times when Jesus doesn’t feel safe to me. And not just in the sense that we live in an unsafe, fallen world. Sometimes the very things He seems to be calling me toward feel unsafe. Sometimes I actually hear myself saying to Him: “Are you kidding me with this?” Jesus asked Peter to step out of a boat onto a raging sea. Yes, Jesus was ultimately safe, and it was the sea and the storm that were unsafe, but it was Jesus who was calling Him out into that, right? How safe is that?
Most recently, this “unsafeness” (not a real word, I know) has manifested itself in my life in my husband’s health issues . . . a diagnosis with an uncertain, possibly scary, future. This diagnosis doesn’t change my love for my husband, but, I must admit, it makes me want to put brick walls up around my heart. “Maybe it won’t hurt so badly if I just protect myself a little bit.” But Jesus, the safe yet unsafe One, is asking me to love like I never have before, recklessly. To open my heart up even more, knowing there is risk, knowing it will hurt, knowing the future is uncertain and may not be pretty. I must admit, it’s not feeling very safe.
It’s kind of reminding me of a time a few years ago when Allison was twelve. She had signed up for a beginning guitar class and was doing quite well. Well enough, in fact, that the teacher asked her to come to a “gig” at a restaurant and play and sing a Taylor Swift song. (Hmm. . . a twelve year old girl in a guitar class so of course it was going to be Taylor Swift, right?) Allison was very excited and agreed wholeheartedly. That was Wednesday. The gig was Saturday. Plenty of time to practice . . . or . . . plenty of time to get cold feet. Saturday arrived and Allison suddenly began begging, pleading, and cajoling me to allow her to back out of her commitment. She didn’t want to go. She was afraid. I told her she had to go because she had committed to it. Then the tears came. Real, heartfelt tears. The kind that break a Mom’s heart. The begging continued. I probably would have been tempted to give in and let her stay home, except for the fact that a few months earlier, she had signed up for a school talent show and ended up backing out of it at the last minute after some stupid kid told her she couldn’t sing. (Sorry, but when you’re a Mom, and someone hurts your kid, you’re allowed to refer to them as “stupid”. Ask any Mom.) I was really concerned that letting her back out again would become kind of a self-perpetuating cycle of letting her fears get the best of her. I knew this cycle too well from my own experience. So I stuck to my guns and told her she had to go to the performance and she had to sing and that I would be there and I was sure it would be fine.
It was a really quiet ride to the restaurant. I am sure Allison was not seeing me as a safe person at that point. And I really wasn’t safe. I was asking her to get out of the boat and into the storm. And neither of us could be sure what the outcome would be.
While she was waiting to perform, I did my own version of begging. I pleaded with God to let it go well. I could picture my daughter, if it didn’t go well, sitting on a therapist’s couch ten years from now saying, “My life was pretty good until my Mom made me perform when I didn’t want to. Then all hell broke loose.” But somewhere deep down I knew that no matter how the performance went, we would be okay. We would have a safe place to land. Is it possible I was experiencing Jesus as both safe and unsafe simultaneously?
Well, the performance went better than we could have imagined, and Allison has gone on to perform in many gigs at restaurants, fairs, and on a cable television show. Recently, she is focusing more on worship than on Taylor Swift, and she is helping to lead worship in several different areas. To watch her is to witness someone who appears to have found her calling at a relatively young age. The girl worships with abandon. And she draws others into God’s presence along with her.
I do not want to take credit for this recent development in any way, shape or form, but I do wonder how differently the path might have looked if I had allowed her to give in to that early case of “stagefright”. If I had played the role of “safe parent”, she might never have gotten out of the boat.
We all face situations that feel unsafe. And often it is God Himself who is calling us out further into that unsafe place. For my family right now it is medical uncertainties and all of the implications that go along with that. I used to, when faced with things that felt “unsafe”, spend a lot of time contemplating whether God caused the situation, or allowed the situation, or had nothing to do with the situation.I thought that understanding which of those was true might help me cope with things more effectively. Honestly, I don’t have the mental or emotional energy for that kind of pondering anymore. And far greater minds than mine have wrestled with these questions and come up lacking.
But this I do know: the same God who called Peter out of the boat into the unsafe storm, also leads His children beside calm, still waters and quiet, green pastures. And He promises a peace beyond human understanding. So the storms can rage, and the mountains can crumble, but we will always be held safely in the palm of His hand. No matter what.
Perhaps He can be both unsafe and safe in the best possible ways. And perhaps that is enough.