Fear is fine, but just walk with some common sense
On a clear day in 1953, a bookkeeper from New Zealand and his small team of adventurers embarked on the final stage of a historic climb.
Without the benefit of oxygen or many modern tools available to climbers today, Edmund Hillary and his crew reached the south peak of Mount Everest. Exhausted and short of breath in the thin mountain air, most of Hillary’s group could not continue to the summit, but he and Nepalese climber Tenzing Norgay pressed ahead.
Hillary, a modest, self-effacing man, had no visions of fame about his adventure. He simply saw Everest as a challenge to be taken on with respectful persistence. He also had no illusions about the risks he took in making such a historic attempt.
“If you set out on an adventure,” said Hillary, “certain from the outset that you will succeed, then why bother beginning in the first place?”
Hillary died recently in Auckland, New Zealand, at age 88. He is remembered not only for his bravery, but also for his humility and concern for others. He always put the well-being of his fellow climbers before his own aspirations, and he was careful not to place his fears too far out of sight. To ignore one’s fears, said Hillary, was to take unnecessary risk.
To allow those same fears, however, to paralyze us and keep us from trying to achieve the improbable, is equally ill-advised. Fear often alerts us to real risks that lie ahead. But, much like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, we should welcome our fears, embrace them and push forward, fully aware of the potential dangers.
This is part of what is so incredible about Jesus’ ministry. He knew well the dangers that faced him in a hostile, occupied territory. From the day of his birth, he was identified as a potential threat to the existing powers, and as one who should be “dealt with” accordingly.
Though Jesus never ran away into hiding, he also didn’t put his energy into futile tasks. If he found one place too unreceptive, he shook the dust from his sandals and moved on. Instead of beating his head repeatedly against an immovable wall, he sought out those who were open to his message.
There were times, however, when Jesus took a position, even knowing the potential consequences. For some, the famous painting of the “laughing Jesus,” supposedly laughing all the way to the cross, is an encouraging symbol of triumph. But I simply can’t get past the image of Jesus in the Garden on Gethsemane, weeping bitterly until blood oozed from his pores.
He knew what was coming. He didn’t want it to happen. But he didn’t let his fear dictate his choices.
Life isn’t about avoiding risk any more than it is about wandering blindly into harm’s way. If Edmund Hillary taught us anything with his legacy as the first to conquer Everest, it is that our fears often are the greatest mountains we will climb in our lives. However, with the proper tools and preparation, fear never should hold us back from achieving the greatest things that await us at the next summit, just beyond our reach.
There is such a thing as reasonable risk. What that constitutes is up to each individual, but it’s impossible to make wise decisions about life’s risks without dealing with the fear that accompanies. It might seem more appealing to hole up and do nothing, or to stampede blindly into the fray, hoping to avoid danger without knowing exactly what it is we’re trying to avoid.
Faith, though, is not ignorant. Simply throwing up our hands and saying, “whatever happens, God will take care of it” isn’t enough. We were each given a brain, a conscience and a discerning sense of judgment for a reason. They’re gifts from a generous, loving, yet liberating God.
Like any true gift, the terms about how we use them are up to us.
Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com.