Life is too short to always be playing it safe. Most of life’s significant events don’t happen in the comfort zone. I think our society has elevated safety too much. Of course there is wisdom in basic safety—but if we make safety our highest priority, we run the risk of losing our courage to face our fears. In his book Just Courage, Christian human rights activist Gary Haugen, asks parents a penetrating question: “Do you want your kids to be safe, or do you want them to be brave?” Some parents have so overemphasized physical safety that they end up endangering their children emotionally and spiritually.
Haugen sees many American Christians as being trapped in a world of suburban monotony and triviality. He uses the metaphor of a cul-de-sac to illustrate how Americans endanger their kids spiritually by keeping them “safe at home.” The literal meaning of cul-de-sac is “dead-end street.” It has been a regular feature of suburban housing developments for many years, designed to alleviate homeowner anxieties by eliminating dangerous high-speed traffic that would endanger children playing on sidewalks and streets. In the search for a pathway to safety, the cul-de-sac was created. But decades later, studies revealed that cul-de-sacs are actually more dangerous for children. As it turns out, children are not injured by forward-moving traffic as often as they are by cars that are backing up—which is exactly what people do in cul-de-sacs. Now many cities want to ban cul-de-sac developments because they increase risk to children. Many spiritually at-risk youth in churches, who are constantly exposed to materialism in places such as suburban malls, could be challenged to face their fears by making a difference in an “unsafe” inner-city neighborhood or on the mission field in another country.
Leaving your comfort zone and going to a different place that doesn’t seem as safe does take courage. I want to ask you to pray for me—because frankly, a lot of parents don’t really like me! I am an Intercultural Studies/Missions professor and many of the world’s neediest mission fields also happen to be the world’s least safe places.
One of our greatest fears is the fear of dying. I challenge my mission students to settle the “death question” (Am I ready to die?) deep within their hearts before they ever set foot on the mission field. Doing so will be one of the most freeing things they ever do, because settling the question means coming to a place in life where you are at peace with dying. It is not that you want to die, nor that you are trying to die—but rather that you are okay if you die. A “martyr spirit” is not the same thing as a “martyr complex.” A martyr spirit is one in which you are always ready to die, whenever the Lord decides to take you home.
I occasionally return to the DR Congo for short summer ministry trips. Even though I lived there for ten years, I find that going there still requires courage. Before leaving on these trips, I always stop and take a personal inventory. I share the deepest fears and concerns of my heart with the Lord and ask him for courage to face any fears I have. I let the Lord know that I have settled the death question: I am ready whenever and wherever He decides to call me home. Every time I settle this question in my heart, I experience deep peace that allows me to go anywhere and do anything—without fear.
Reflections: Honestly ask yourself, “Do you want to be safe or do you want to be brave? Ask yourself if you want your children and grandchildren to be safe or to be brave? Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in the area of personal safety, but not to allow it to become an obstacle to bravery. Have you settled the “death question?” Ask God to give you a martyr spirit so that you are free to go anywhere and minister for the Lord.
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”