"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

10 August 2006

Of Risks and Tragedies

It would be so easy to condemn. She left her three-year-old child in the running truck, no car seat, no seat belt. He managed to pull it out of park, just playing around while waiting for his mom as she ran back into the laundromat to grab something she’d left behind. Somehow – maybe she hadn’t quite closed her door – he was thrown to the pavement as the truck lurched forward into the building’s wall . . . and then rolled back, crushing his skull.

So easy to point a finger, to think, “How could anyone be so negligent, so foolish?” So easy to despise her, to condemn her for the risk she took. So easy to think we’d never have done such a thing, never been so thoughtless with our own child.

But we are all of us this young woman. In this broken world, in this place where sin and the flesh cloud our reason (even when we have been made new in Christ; how much more if we have not), where we are so foolish and self-centered as to think – however subconsciously – “it won’t happen to me” or “it won’t happen this time,” we are all takers of foolish risks, meaning no harm yet daily courting tragedy.

The wonder is how often we avoid it, how often we “luck out” (or God lets our guardian angels intervene). As I listened to my daughter’s choked voice telling me of her next-door neighbor’s accident, the horrific death of her own son’s regular playmate, my mind replayed the hundred close calls with her and her four siblings, so many of them caused by little errors of judgment, little acts of commission or omission, never intentional desire to harm anyone.

We are all of us this young woman. We forget to replace the batteries in the smoke detector, because so many other urgent tasks crowd our minds; push above the speed limit, because we really don’t want to arrive at church late again; run alone despite warnings, because we need the time to think and nothing’s ever happened anyway; neglect the safety glasses, because they’re hard to see through and look silly besides . . . leave a child in a running vehicle, because our errand will take only a minute.

But these only mirror the more devastating spiritual risks we constantly take. We mean no harm; just as we can’t grasp that the logical consequences of our physical negligences may one day befall us, we are oblivious to the ways we court much worse disaster, disaster stemming from the self-absorption and pride which lead us to make little compromises with righteousness until our hearts are seared to Truth.

We are all of us this cavalier in our character. We neglect to pray for someone because our own harried concerns drive him from our thoughts; tell an authority we were ill when we have really been procrastinating, because we don’t want to appear lazy or irresponsible; allow a morsel of gossip to slide off the tongue, because we need to feel better about ourselves; follow the world’s fads and fashions, because it’s inconvenient and embarrassing to look or act “differently” . . . leave a friend alone in his sin, because we are afraid to offend.

And when someone else gets caught in some similar unnecessary risk, when it doesn’t pay off and tragedy ensues, we frown and self-righteously note how he should have known better, should never have been so foolish in the first place.

Perhaps so. And perhaps tomorrow or next week or next year, meaning no harm, we who condemn will take one risk too many, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And in the ensuing tragedy, what will we hope for, crave, desperately need? Mercy, comfort, forgiveness – and someone to walk with us through the valley and point us to the One who offers true consolation.

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” our Lord warns us. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2 ESV).

We are all of us that young woman. We cannot avoid being human, taking calculated but unnecessary risks at times, at times being entirely oblivious that a choice we make even is risky. May we always remember, when we hear of tragedies that could so easily have been prevented, that it could so easily have been any one of us. And, as believers in a God of mercy, may we obey the Scriptures, “put[ting] on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . .” (Col. 3:12 ESV).

{This post refers to an incident which happened over a year ago. The laundromat is in the same building as my son-in-law's convenience store; his mom owns it. My daughter sat in the waiting room at the hospital with her neighbor until her child died. She doesn't live next door to the family anymore; she doesn't know how it's going with them now. We pray for her.}


Anonymous said...

This touched me tonight in the same way that it did when you first read it to me. How often do I take risks that are not necessary? I know that since I don't have children, when I take risks I at least am not endangering the lives of my children, but I do endanger the lives of others, and that is just as bad. Thank you for challenging me through your posts. You will never know how much you have touched my life! I hope you are having a fantastic summer and that you are revived enough to start another year!


alaiyo said...

Thanks, Lindsey! I'm finally getting syllabi typed and on the website, but I won't feel ready till the older students start dropping by . . . :)

Hope all is going well with you!



Fieldfleur said...

This is an excellent reminder, Beth. Thank you for your wisdom here.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that well thought out message, it reminded me of the necessity to come close to those who are in the middle of a trial. I needed that reminder, and I need to act on being more open to walk along side those that are in need, for the day is coming when I will need someone. Of course those days already have come in the past, and our Lord has always placed someone beside me, as He challenged my faith in Him. It's also a reminder that we need to open ourselves to His blessings each day, so as to receive mercy and grace into our lives.

Ralph R. Mauch

amelia ruth said...

I remember when you read that in class to us--it leaves me rather breathless thinking how close I come to such tragedy and yet how quick I am to condemn. Maybe I condemn because I want to believe that such tragedy will never happen to me--I want guarantees that if I don't do anything wrong, then surely such that won't happen to me.

I find myself guilty of these thoughts when I encounter handicapped children ("surely the mother must have smoked while she was pregnant") or other's financial difficulties ("well, no wonder they have difficulties--they spend so much more money than we do") or people who are ill ("well, I don't spend so much time in the cold like they do").

Thank you for your convicting wisdom. Lord save me from this body of death.

How are you, by the way? I intend to e-mail sometime--I say this because it will keep me accountable to do so!