I don't watch acrobats very often, but I'm quite taken by their willingness to work without a net. There is something captivating about watching someone walking on the high wire or grasping at a swinging bar . . . knowing full well that catastrophe is just a slip away. Unless we have a truly twisted heart, we're not actually hoping for that slip. Instead, we want to see someone soar and fly and succeed . . . and, yes, survive . . . without a net.
It's the same with theatre. I absolutely love movies, but I love theatre even more. Actors work without a net. Even if the lines were perfectly delivered the night before and even if the song has been beautifully sung a thousand times, the next performance is brand new. And there's no net. Again, unless we have a twisted heart, we're not hoping for a misstep, Instead, we want to see the heart and the courage and the risk that comes to life when there is no net.
It's the same with life, with your life and with mine. We live without a net. We do our best to do the right thing, the good thing, the best thing. But we also know how easy it is to choose the wrong path, to stumble, to fall. We might wish for a world where gravity can be suspended for just that instant before we hit the ground, where ill-advised words somehow disappear in space before they can be heard, and where stationary objects suddenly move out of the path of our car - but that's not the real world. Instead, we sometimes fall, our ill-advised words are almost always heard, and accidents can't always be avoided.
How great it would be to wake up each morning and simply un-do all of our mistakes from the day before! But that kind of thing only happens in movies, fantasies at that.
To make this even more challenging, we never get to see how things would work out if we were to choose a different path or act in a different way. We have to leave that sort of speculation to cinema or literature. For our part, we can only see where this particular path leads, and we can only wonder about what might have been, what could have been, or what should have been.
We live without a net.
And without a net, we deal with every soaring success and every stupid stumble. Sometimes our hand slips from the bar and we crash to the ground, and sometimes we get pushed from the platform. Sometimes we miss our cue, and sometimes the orchestra gives us the wrong note. Sometimes we trip on stage, and sometimes we are in the middle of our leap only to discover that the arms intended to catch us aren't in the right place.
There are so many ways to stumble.
And God could keep that from happening. Honestly, he could. But generally, he simply allows the play to continue.
What are we to make of this God who grants us this terrible and wonderful freedom to try, to soar, to fail, to fall? What are we to make of this God who will allow us to fall, allow us to choose what's less than best, allow us to act in ways that do damage to ourselves and to others? What are we to make of this God who refuses to put out a net - but who forever says that he loves us and that he will never leave us? What are we to make of this God who is right here with us when we fall . . . however it is that we fell?
It's tempting to think that it would be so much better to have a net. But God, I think, loves it when we live with heart and courage and risk. I think God loves it when we try to do impossible things. I think God loves it when we act in ways that we believe will please him -- even if we aren't completely sure.
Maybe he cares more about the desire that's in our heart than whether we get every little thing exactly right.
So . . . do you adopt the baby even though you're told how risky and expensive that will be and even though you're assured that adopting a baby will pretty much ruin your safe and comfortable life?
Do you stay at the school that has loved you and cared for you for your gradaute degree even though other schools would ensure much better prospects for your future?
Do you move your family across the country to a place you've never heard of? Do you give up a life you love and ask your children to say goodbye to their friends simply because you have this sense of guidance and call deep in your heart?
Do you walk away from a destructive work situation even though you know that you have nowhere else to go and even though there is simply no way that you'll be able to pay your bills and even though your daughter has three years of college left? Or do you stay and fight? Or do you simply deny your convictions and go along to get along?
Do you huddle with a small group of people and decide to start a new church even though you have no place to meet and even though you have no tangible resources and even though you know almost nothing about starting a church?
And will you do all of that without a net?
Those are the questions that have pretty much shaped my entire adult life.
Did I make the right choices? Did I do the right thing? Did I come up with the right answers?
I think so. I hope so.
But whether I did or not, I found this God who stayed true to me no matter what. He doesn't always protect me from even my own foolishness, but he is always there to say, "Let's take one more step."
For my part, here's what I say: Adopt the baby. Choose the school that doesn't have the best reputation. Make the move. Walk away from the bad work situation. Start the new church.
And go out in front of people and sing the song. And dance on stage. And get out on that high wire.
Live with heart. Live with courage. Live with risk.
True, there's no net.
But you will never be alone.