Just in Case

NOTE: Due to a lack of sufficient public interest, the Strength for the Weary blog will be going on indefinite hiatus after this post to make more time for other projects. Please feel free to send related comments or suggestions, including what most influences you to comment on or share a post, to ks@houstonfreelancewriter.com.

Last Thursday afternoon, my home church went on lockdown. No one allowed to enter the premises for the rest of the day, evening events cancelled. The reason: someone made a vaguely threatening phone call to the church. The “rush” e-mail distributed from the pastor’s office read in part, “We have no real reason to think there is any danger, but just in case …”

By the next day, everything was back to normal. The incident wasn’t even mentioned at Sunday worship. And I couldn’t help finding it a bit ironic that the sermon text that day was “Judge not,” complete with personal examples of people who “looked like” hoodlums and weren’t.

Understand, I’m not trying to judge the church on whether its precautionary actions were reasonable. And it’s not as if that particular incident had any direct effect on me or my plans. However, I do get tired of the “just in case” attitude that rules society today. More than a few churches around here have made “you don’t enter the grounds unquestioned” the rule rather than the exception. Schools, even more so. I hardly need mention modern airport security. Or the public and political arguments over gun laws, arms races, and whether this country needs a security fence along its southern border. Not to mention events cancelled because it might rain, or emergency evacuations from cities that weren’t hit by the hurricane after all.

And yes, I personally keep my insurance current, turn down rides and Facebook invitations from strangers, check my credit reports, and keep my outside doors locked even when I’m at home.

Some of it is necessary. Most of it is a bother. And nearly all of it carries the implication, “It’s up to you to make sure nothing bad happens to you.”

Which makes sense up to where we start taking “sure” and “nothing” literally. There comes a point when wise people admit that total security is impossible. And no, it’s not exclusively a modern-day issue. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, the New Testament writers noted:

“When people are saying, ‘Everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

And, “A rich man … said to himself … ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?'” (Luke 12:16, 17, 19-20).

And the classic warning against disregarding God’s right to overrule our plans, James 4:13-15: “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.'”

Locked doors and insurance and careful planning have their place, but they are not our true security. Our true security is in a prayerful, well-nurtured relationship with God.

And that relationship is no “just in case” precaution. It’s an essential constant through good times and bad.

Running in Place

In his bestselling Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recounts a story to illustrate the danger of letting something demand “so much attention that it makes us oblivious to the rest of reality.” It happened in the 1950s during Air Force parachute training; one chute failed to open, and the user died in the fall.

Investigation found that the parachute was in perfect working order, but it differed from standard design in one small point: originally intended for a left-handed chutist, it had the rip cord release positioned a few inches farther to the left. Although the instructor had carefully pointed out the handle’s location before the jump, damage to the dead man’s uniform and deep scratches in his chest indicated he had been tearing at the “normal” release position up to the moment of impact. The investigators could only conclude he had panicked when he reached for the habitual spot and found nothing.

Although it’s rare for the situation to be so serious or the outcome so tragic, most of us can identify with the experience of searching frantically for something where we think it should be, only to eventually find it (or have someone else point it out) literally within arm’s reach:

  • Digging for keys fifteen minutes before realizing you’re holding them in your other hand.
  • Turning the apartment upside down looking for a cell phone, then finally spotting it and remembering instantly that you plugged it in last night to charge.
  • Retracing your steps for ten miles and asking two lost-and-founds if anyone has turned in your eyeglass case–then having the second lost-and-found clerk point to an obvious bulge in your pocket.

Going on autopilot is dangerous, if only to the ego. It’s one thing to forget momentarily where something is; it’s another thing to get so busy looking where it obviously isn’t that we forget to pause and consider other possibilities. Usually it happens when we’re too hurried to think: when you have fifteen minutes to make a fourteen-minute trip to the appointment you delayed leaving for because there were thirty e-mails to answer, misplacing your car keys can trigger as high a burst of adrenaline as if you were falling 13,000 feet without a parachute. The adrenaline-dominated brain knows only fight and flight as options, which makes it a valuable ally when enemy and escape route are obvious, but turns it into a traitor when what the situation needs is a moment of intelligent consideration. We lose memory of what we knew five minutes ago, and go blind to what’s in plain view. We go temporarily insane, doing the same thing harder, looking for different results.

Remember Martha in Luke 10:38-42? In her society, it was “normal” for women to take care of housework and hospitality, leaving the men to their conversation; so that was what she did when Jesus came to visit. Her sister Mary apparently took a closer look at their Guest and sensed an invitation to break custom and join the “conversation” group, and Martha promptly became annoyed because “I’m stuck with all this work and no one cares.” Jesus had to tell her directly that she was getting so frantic about how things were “supposed” to be, she had blinded herself to the better things He wanted to give her.

If it seems that what’s “supposed” to work just isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to stand still and ask God what He wants us to do. We may well get an “all you had to do was ask” answer.

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