Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A safe place to take risks

A pattern is emerging that shapes my experiences these past few months. It is best described by this statement: "I feel safe taking a risk with you all."

A young woman kept repeating the above phrase during our four hour whitewater rafting adventure just outside Montreal, Canada. Four out of six of us were first timers, including this young woman and myself. She did not know how to swim or float. On our way, she shared that she was nervous; when we arrived at the river, she said that she was scared; at times on the raft, her face looked terrified and her body posture seemed petrified. To reassure herself, she repeated the phrase: "I feel safe taking a risk with you all.” When fear took the better of her, we reminded her that she is safe with us, with statements like "we've got you," and "you jump, we jump, we're with you."

We all made it through safely. And we enjoyed ourselves immensely, especially her. Most importantly, we grew in trust. Trust in one another, trust in ourselves, trust in God. Even though afterwards she denied "all the nice things she said about us" and "how much she trusts us" before getting into the water, we all realized how much we have grown together through this adventure.

This experience has taught me a great deal about taking risks. Three things specifically:

1. Be honest with myself. Be honest my feelings or whatever is going on inside, especially with feelings I label as negative or bad. The young woman was honest about her fears and reservations. She voiced them at times, allowing some among us to acknowledge our own fears and hesitations, helping us to be more honest.

2. Learn to laugh at myself. This does not mean that we should belittle ourselves, minimize, or dismiss our feelings, tensions, or difficulties. Sometimes, we can use humor to deny things. But we can also use humor to lighten the mood, to laugh at ourselves for being too serious, for misreading, misunderstanding, or overreacting. Throughout the rafting adventure, we teased the young woman, out of genuine care, for being so scared and overdramatic, without putting her down, without judgment. We helped her to laugh with us, at the situation, and at herself without denying her real fears. And we laughed a lot.

3. Focus on grace. During times of challenge, facing the unknown, or dealing with tensions, we frequently do not feel safe nor do we feel like trusting. In those moments, we are tempted to focus on our problems, weaknesses, mistakes, or fears. Yet, we can also redirect our attention to what has been good, what has been giving us life, what our blessings are. In Canada, our group had been growing in trust the previous ten days while serving on a young adult retreat and gathering. Our grace was manifested through trusting God and overcoming many difficulties together. By redirecting our attention on this grace, we were able to help the young woman (and one another) take risks. By focusing on grace, we felt safe enough to take risks, to venture into the unknown. Grace is the safe place.

Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in faith, underwent similar experiences. God asked them to leave their homeland, comforts, almost everything behind, to go forth into unknown lands. All they had was God's promise. They learned to be honest, to laugh (Sarah means "she who laughs" in Hebrew), to focus on God's promise. And God kept God's promises.

This is not easy for me to learn. Yet, I find myself drawn more and more to adopt this attitude before the challenges of living in a new place, working in a new office, meeting new people, facing many unknowns. I am very grateful for this lesson. I am grateful for my experience of rafting, for the people I was blessed to be with. I feel safe to take risks with them.

With whom do you feel safe to take risks?

p.s. - You know who you are, Ms Sunshine. You know who you are ladies. Thank you. You inspire me to ground myself in a safe place to take risks. It is helping very much!