On being safe

I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the desire to be safe. I’m not talking about looking both ways when you cross the road, or wearing a cycle helmet, so much as existential safety. I want – and want desperately – to know that I won’t be destroyed by the storms of life. And again, when I say that, I don’t think I’m talking primarily about preservation of physical life but about a preservation of self. That’s why things like dementia are terrifying – what we most fear losing is our personhood, our very selves.

It seems to me that this desire for safety is a nearly universal one, if we’re honest. But how many of us genuinely feel safe? For me, that sense of safety often feels like it’s consigned to my childhood. I distinctly remember the day when I realised that there were things my parents couldn’t fix. I’m sure there’d been inklings of it for years, but it hit me full force when, at 17, I found myself running a weekend away for 50 teenagers with another guy my age. It was really too much for two sixth-formers to handle, and despite our best efforts we ended up making a loss of about £300, which was £300 more than our little Inter-Schools Christian Fellowship had in the bank. Kind donations from local churches sorted out the financial side of things in the end, but through it all I just felt so alone. I remember thinking “No one can help me now” over and over. It’s a thought that returns to me even now, when I find myself in scary situations. I think most of us have experienced that sense of being alone, being unreachable and unrescuable in whatever storm we’re in. And it’s terrifying, often more terrifying than whatever actual challenge we’re currently facing. And so we long to feel safe.

However, I’ve been struggling for some time with the belief that this desire I have for safety is wrong. I tend to think that as a Christian I should be willing and able to give up my hunger for safety and security so that I can follow Jesus. Didn’t Jesus Himself say that we have to ‘lose our lives’ and ‘take up our crosses’ to follow Him? Doesn’t sound very safe to me. How can I go and be a missionary in central Asia, or a doctor in Africa, or even just love and reach out to the people in the estate down the street if I’m continually focused on – fettered by – this desire to be safe?

And yet, I can’t seem to get rid of it. I’ve felt guilty for it, I’ve repented of it, I’ve tried to ignore it. But it won’t go away. It seems to be hard-wired into me. And now I think that maybe I’ve been missing the point: I’ve been trying to deny my desire for safety, pretend it doesn’t exist, but maybe the real problem is not that I’m looking for safety, but that I’m looking in the wrong place.

Because Jesus doesn’t just say ‘lose your life’, He says  “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39, emphasis added). And the same One who says ‘take up your cross’ (die daily) says ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). Jesus tells His disciples that He is sending them out “like sheep among wolves” (Matt 10:16) – they will be in danger of their very lives because of their witness to Him – and then He says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:28-31). In Colossians 3:3-4 Paul tells us “…you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

…So what are we to conclude? Jesus does ask us to lose everything for Him, but at the same time He holds out to us true life, eternal security. Losing everything for Him doesn’t mean losing safety, but finding it. Unlike anything in the world we turn to as a safety-blanket, Jesus offers us perfect safety. He saves us – utterly, irrevocably, completely – so our souls, our selves, are safe, in this world and the next. And then, out of that safety, He calls us to lose everything in this life for Him. I think I’m right in saying that it’s impossible to live sold-out, dangerous lives for Jesus when we’re fettered by our hunger for safety, but the answer is not trying to reject that hunger, but having it perfectly satisfied by Jesus.

Fighting the desire for safety is so fruitless because it’s a good desire, placed in our hearts by God to lead us to Him. Instead, we need to find our safety in the God who has ‘hidden us with Christ’ in Himself, rather than in the earthly things we usually turn to: family, friends, relationships, career, looks, money, success or whatever. And that’s still a massive challenge, but hopefully one that will be life-giving and sacrifice-enabling and, ultimately, safe.

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