I have realised, in discussing this very subject with some lovely friends, that I do not have an especially pioneering, adventurous spirit. My lovely wife, Sal, is the adventurous type, always looking for the next exciting thing. I tend to be more routine-driven, stick with what I know, keep ticking along. Sounds hideously dull doesn't it?
I don't want life to be boring or tedious. I want to have fun and excitement, I'm just not sure how many surprises I have an appetite for. Surprises can be lovely (my wife presenting me with a surround sound system a few Christmasses ago, or throwing me a surprise birthday party) or unpleasant (the £600 service for the car back in April springs to mind, or the discovery that I was to be made redundant back in 2009) and maybe the occasions on which the surprise has been unpleasant have spoilt my appetite for them altogether. Maybe I have lost some of my appetite for adventure because I don't know what will happen and I would rather stick with what is predictable.
At this point I think I'm going to get a little "deeper" and consider something I often discuss with men and especially those who are facing difficult "should I press ahead into the unknown" type decisions. Dr Larry Crabb has written a number of books on Christian counselling and is himself a PhD psychologist. One of his books is called "Be Strong, Be Courageous" and is sub-titled "God's call to Men". It is hardly unique in being a book about what it means to be a man and what God has for and wants from men, however it does avoid suggesting that the most suitable path is to find the nearest wild boar and wrestle it to the ground before building a fire and using its blood as war paint. Instead, the book looks at how men tend to be wired when it comes to making difficult decisions that require us to advance into the unknown.
Dr Crabb describes two spheres, the sphere of management and the sphere of mystery. Apparently men tend to prefer the sphere of management, which is where we are confident, secure, competent and in control. It is here that we know what we are doing and how to do it, here that we can cope, here that everything is under control. By contrast, the sphere of mystery is seemingly chaotic. Nothing is under control, there are no easy answers, we do not know what will happen next and we are outside of our comfort zone, our area of competence.
An example might be (and due credit must be given to Dr Crabb for this example which is lifted wholesale from his book) a husband and father awoken during the night by a slamming front door who goes to the window to see his teenage daughter running down the road. What is she doing? What has happened? What does he do now? Doing something constructive, something purposeful, something manly requires a step into the sphere of mystery. He could wake his wife and ask her to pray with him. He could let her sleep and go after his daughter. He could sit on the front porch and wait for her. None of these are assured of success, but they are decisive steps that reflect the character of God in some fashion or another. But the paralysis sets in when considering which of these steps to take. A man who resolves to stay within the sphere of management will do nothing, because he is so fearful of doing the wrong thing. He will sit there, like a rabbit in the headlights, because he does not know what to do and is afraid to take a step into the dark, a step that may be wrong, a step that is not part of a guaranteed recipe for success, a step that fills him with dread because he is not in control. So what does he do? He could lie there worrying and fretting, he could wake his wife up and shout at her and blame her, he could go downstairs, make himself a stiff drink and watch something distracting or worse on the TV or computer. All of these would represent a retreat into the sphere of management. He knows where he is and what he is doing. He's not fixing anything, but he's not taking any risky steps either. He is not reflecting the character and call of his God.
I know that however I dress up my disinclination for adventure and my desire for routine, ultimately it represents weakness and fear. I'm not being unduly hard on myself in saying that, merely honest about my shortcomings. It is hard for me to be adventurous, hard for me to venture forth into areas of uncertainty, hard to take steps when I don't know how firm underfoot the ground will prove to be. Think of Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade, challenged to leap from "the lion's head", seemingly into a bottomless abyss, only to find the path solid beneath him.
Very recently, it took no small measure of firm encouragement from my patient and loving wife for me to venture forth and broach a difficult subject with someone. I was concerned I might embarrass myself, might look foolish. I thought it might not go as I hoped, but that is the very nature of adventure. I do not know how it will go, I do not know the outcome. Life is not a recipe or formula, where x + y = z. It does not work like that and if I expect it to I will be endlessly frustrated and regressive. So I bit the bullet and broached the subject. The world did not come to and end, I did not get shouted at or laughed at or cried at. Life goes on and I have learned a little lesson about adventure. Not much of one, but it's a start.
God does not want me to shrink back, to worry whether he will come through if I trust in him. He wants me to persevere, take the big risks, trust him, press forward. I didn't shrink back from the gap year in Uganda God called me to in 1998, or run away from the bungee jump offered in 2001 and yet here I am in 2010 fretting about whether or not to embark on a potentially difficult conversation! How much ground I have lost. God grant me greater boldness and courage and the will to be decisive in moving forward to the things you have for me. Help me to take the steps I find difficult and to look for the opportunities and doors you would have me push open.