I was watching my 4-year-old learn how to swim. Her older siblings were enthusiastically offering suggestions as they splashed around our little 3-foot-deep pool. Despite her desire to learn, she resisted. Why? She was not willing to leave her comfort zone. She just loved to walk around and splash. To plunge her body forward was out of her bounds. This plunge forward into the unknown is what philosophers, theologians, and the like have discussed for ages. Why is this life necessity so hard?
This unwillingness to stretch outside our boundaries can be seen every where. My dad is a professional ski instructor. I was asking him about some of the basics of downhill skiing. Although no theologian, he understood well the step into the unknown – the step of faith. To ski, my dad explained, you have to lean your body forward down the hill – it’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s the only way forward.
Even walking – something we do everyday – requires that we lean forward. It’s so natural we barely recognize our upper torso is out in front leading the way driving us forward.
The step into the unknown is a requirement to live. And it’s part of growing up. It’s part of experiencing our world more deeply. When we’re learning something new, we’re stepping into the unknown.
This advance into the unknown makes us vulnerable. And this is what makes it hard. Few care to be vulnerable. It’s common to use terms such as “comfort zone,” but this misses the emotional turmoil involved. What we’re really saying is that we’re making ourselves vulnerable – susceptible to something that will shake our foundations. Being vulnerable is hard. Yet, it’s only in this vulnerability that we find life.
Being vulnerable is part of life.
Most of us spend our days making our lives less vulnerable and more comfortable – fixing the past, adjusting the present, and securing the future. The reality of our precarious situation, of our life, is often hard to see in a luxurious society. Our basic needs (food, water, shelter…etc) are plentiful. We’re more worried about getting the latest iPhone.
Being vulnerable is something very foreign to us. We know what “we” want and go about achieving “it.” Yet, something deeper calls out to us. We can feel it. It’s a call to something more. Something higher than just what we want. It’s what the band, Casting Crowns, sings about:
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
We want to be able to stand up to Goliath. Can we? Will we? “Strength” is not power and might as we may traditionally view it. Rather, it’s the courage to be vulnerable. This vulnerability is what Kierkegaard called the “moment.” It’s the moment real faith breaks through into the ordinary. Will we obey the call, or cower behind innumerable rationalizations? If we hide, we’ll never know. Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues that, “…only he who is obedient can believe.” In other words, to know what faith is (to experience Life), you have to plunge in first, otherwise you’ll never know, and you’ll never move forward.
Kierkegaard also reflects on the story of Abraham and Issac. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In the story we’re told Abraham started off “early the next morning…”. One might be tempted to think he was being dutiful, efficient – off to do God’s work bright and early, if you will. Kierkegaard notes it was more likely Abraham couldn’t sleep the night before. In other words, he was sick to his stomach when the “moment” came; yet, he proceeded in faith.
This theme, of course, is all over the Bible. When Peter wanted to step out of the boat, that was his “moment.” Jesus simply said, “Come.” When Jairus’ daughter died, Jesus simply said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” When Jesus was sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane, he put his faith in God – all the way through the most horrible, humiliating, and agonizing death known to man.
If we avoid being vulnerable, we avoid life. We need to plunge in, head first.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson