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Living – It’s worth the risk!

Since he was always big for his age, we spent our early years fiercely competing with each other – playing whiffle ball in the backyard or h-o-r-s-e on the outside basketball court. Like me, my brother John became a preacher.  We still laugh today because I retired after 40 years at the same church, but he stayed at his church for forty years and one month. He just had to beat me one more time!

Bob Russell

We try to get together for a round of golf once or twice a year. On a recent Monday evening, we met at Perry Park Golf Resort just a few miles outside Carrolton, which is halfway between us.

It was one of those occasions when everything clicked, and we had a wonderful time. The weather was pleasant, and we nearly had the course to ourselves since we started at 6:00 p.m. We played 18 holes in 2 ½ hours and finished just before dark. We reminisced about our childhood, whined about the state of the church, laughed and moaned about aging and solved all the world’s problems before sunset. We both played about as well as we could, and the competition made it even more fun.

While there was almost no one on the course, we caught up with eight guys who were playing some kind of “after dinner scramble.”  They graciously invited us to play through on a 140 yard-par three. Now that creates a tense moment for average golfers. To play through eight strangers is somewhat of an intimidating, potentially embarrassing experience. You could roll it 20 yards or shank it into the lake and be totally humiliated.

It just so happened that both John and I hit great shots and put the ball on the green in birdie position. We nonchalantly thanked the strangers for letting us play through and laughed all the way to the green about how we just escaped total embarrassment.  “They think we’re good!” we giggled, like two little boys.

After 18 holes, we stopped for a hamburger and a few more minutes of theological discussion.  I got home around 10 p.m., grateful for a very special day with someone who means the world to me.

Several days later, I commented to a group about playing golf with my brother at Perry Park, and a friend asked, “Did you see any deer there?”  I said, “As a matter of fact, we did.  On the 18th hole, four deer came down out of the woods and casually wandered across the course at dusk. It was a beautiful sight.”

“Well, I’d be cautious if I were you,” the man warned.  “My son played golf there a few years ago, and when he returned home, he found a tick embedded in his arm.  He ended up contracting Lyme disease, and it set him back for eight months.  The many deer around that course make it a dangerous place to play.”

I immediately started rubbing my arms to check for ticks, even though it had been four days since I had been exposed.

The more I thought about that trip to Carrolton to play golf with my brother, the more I realized just how risky it had been. I traveled up a dangerous section of I-71 where 26 people died in a terrible bus crash years earlier. Is it safe to drive on the interstate?  The round of golf cost me $30.  What if there is a future depression?  That money might be needed and could provide at least three meals.

I know someone who accidentally got pinned between two golf carts years ago, and his ankle was so damaged they had to amputate his foot. I didn’t check the maintenance logs on the golf cart to see if it was in good working condition and safe to drive! My brother and I rode in the same cart and didn’t wear masks, and may have exposed one another to the coronavirus! And I could have contracted Lyme Disease from a deer, for goodness sake!

But if I had it to do over, I’d retake the same trip because a meaningful life involves some degree of risk. I could have quarantined myself in my house and been more assured of living another day, but that would have been a huge mistake. I’d have missed a great evening with my brother.

You see, it’s not just about the quantity of life; it’s about the quality of life. If we live three years longer in an Alzheimer’s unit of some nursing home but never experience deepening relationships, never know the thrill of competing and seldom laugh on the journey, what good is it?

How long are you willing to stay home from inspirational church services because it’s too risky to go?  I know people my age who went four months without seeing or hugging their grandkids even though they live just minutes away. Why? To avoid getting COVID-19. But is that really living? There’s a big difference between living and just existing. How much of the abundant life are we willing to sacrifice in order to avoid possible discomfort or to extend our lives?

A 7-year-old boy wrote on a birthday card to his uncle, “Dear Uncle Bill, I hope you live all your life.”  Jesus said He came that we might “have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  To live a full life involves some degree of reasonable risk.  Jesus commended the five-talent man for taking an investment risk and condemned the fearful, one talent man for burying his treasure in the ground and playing it safe.

There are exceptions.  We’re not to be foolhardy or jump off the temple and ask the angels to catch us. But Jesus Himself risked rejection and ridicule. His calculated risk-taking eventually meant sacrificing His life at 33 years of age.

I cherish some risk-taking memories: riding down the driveway with no training wheels, standing up at the plate knowing a stray fastball could hit me, finding my own way home late at night without a GPS in the car, asking a pretty girl if she’d go out to eat with me after the conference. That risk ended up with me saying, “I do,” when I was just 21 years old and didn’t have a clue of the ups and downs that awaited us for the next 55 years. But I’m thankful I took the risky leap!

Pardon me if I sound like a Libertarian, but I don’t need Congress passing a law that anyone playing golf in Carroll County has to wear a hazmat suit to prevent Lyme disease. I don’t need the governor shutting down the interstate because if he doesn’t, “Someone is going to die.” I don’t need the president to give me a stimulus package to make sure I can afford to play again.

Admittedly some measures need to be taken to protect vulnerable people who can’t protect themselves. But I want the freedom and the thrill of making my own choices and deciding what’s worth the risk and what’s not.

After all, it was for freedom that the pilgrims risked their lives on the Mayflower. It was for freedom the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. It was for freedom from sin and death that Jesus sacrificed His life for us on the cross.  He promised, “If the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

By the way, I won the golf match — on the last hole.  Not that it matters. But you know, it was worth the risk.

Bob Russell is a minister and the retired pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.