Playing It Safe

Because we have all been hurt by others at one time or another we tend to “play it safe.” You don’t let people get too close to you again. Or, you keep your conversations superficial, sharing little to nothing of your personal or private life. We do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from being hurt again and so play it ‘safe,’ whatever that looks like in your life currently. The interesting thing is that when we do this, it seems that it rarely occurs to us that there are some very real dangers in playing it safe as well. 

Helen Keller said, “Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” 

This logic is counterintuitive to most, if not all people – most believing that avoiding danger is safer than outright exposure. So, they avoid risk no matter the cost. What I am saying is that avoiding risk is not a less dangerous approach to life than taking risks. Avoiding risks has it own horrific consequences that most people are less aware of because they don’t appear in the media reports and are not talked about nearly as much.

Playing it safe is the ultimate attempt at self-preservation. It passes up the opportunity to have an incredibly meaningful life in exchange for mere existence. The sure way to look back in the future with massive regret is to pay it safe, be guarded, be suspicious of people who are friendly, assume the worst, and refuse to take chances. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.” That’s a big thing thing for a guy whose life was filled with lots of mischief and adventure to admit.

When you play it safe, you pass up the opportunity to have the conversations that could have changed your life and someone else’s. When you play it safe, you never discover or know what is possible. When you play it safe, you lack passion for life, other people don’t feel your love, your potential is not discovered, and God’s purpose for you goes unfulfilled.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about four lepers in Samaria in a time of famine. The only food source was in the neighbouring community, where food was stockpiled by their enemy. These lepers were starving to death. They had every reason to believe that the enemy would not give them food and would kill them if they made any attempt to enter enemy territory. That’s when one of the lepers did a risk assessment. He began to question the sanity of staying where they were and certainly dying versus taking the risk of going to the neighbouring city in hopes of finding food.

“Why stay here until we die?” He asked (2 Kings 7:3). He wasn’t being irrational. He was pointing out the danger of playing it safe. He was saying, It may be risky to walk towards our enemy, but at least there is a potential for a better life than we’ll have here if we stay where we are.”

It’s true for us as well. The dangerous consequences of playing it safe may be less obvious, but they pose a greater threat in the end. The dangers aren’t sudden and dramatic. They develop slowly over time and can be difficult to identify, which is what makes playing it safe more dangerous than the high-profile missteps we hear about or see in the news. Like a slow leak in a tire, the dangers of playing it safe aren’t something we see or feel on a daily basis. We become aware of them only when we realize we’re stuck and wondering how it happened. That’s when we take note of the bigger picture and realize that playing it safe isn’t as safe as it appears to be.

What I love about the story of the four lepers is that heaven suddenly backed them up when they finally make their gutsy move to stand on their feet and begin walking in the direction of the food. When they headed into enemy territory, God caused the enemy to hear loud, thunder like noises, which they thought were the chariots and horses of an army coming to attack them. The enemy fled for their lives, leaving behind everything, including the food that they had stockpiled. The four lepers walked into the city and found it vacated and filled with plenty of food, not only for themselves but also for the people of Israel. 

This is what happens when we have the courage to not stay where we are or as we are even if it means risking failure. Acts of faith always attract God’s attention and cause Him to move mightily on our behalf. This doesn’t happen when we sit in safe places. It only happens when we dare to move in the direction of our dreams.