The word is "reckless."
On Facebook recently, a friend recited the well-known quote from Ed McCully, one of the five missionaries killed in 1956 by Ecuador's fierce Auca Indians, "I have one desire now - to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it."
While contemplating dropping law school for cross-cultural missions, McCully wrote this to Elizabeth Elliot's husband, Jim, in a letter dated September 22, 1950.
A few years later, both Jim and Ed would be dead, their lifeless bodies splayed across a tropical riverbank, their respective wives and children waiting back at camp for word on their fate.
Hubris or Selflessness?
Certainly, McCully's is a compelling challenge for believers in Christ, but frankly, as I read the post on Facebook, McCully's use of the word "reckless" didn't sit well with me. Aren't believers supposed to be wise, prudent, discerning, patient, and self-controlled? In my mind, being reckless is something brash people do without thinking, without properly evaluating risks versus rewards, without care for how something might negatively impact others, without displaying wisdom and trust in the Lord. After all, when we're reckless, aren't we often taking circumstances into our own hands, instead of waiting for something else?
Of course, these were the same things critics were clucking back in the 1950's, as news of the slaughter of five young American missionaries in the jungles of Ecuador made its way back to the United States, a country booming with post-war optimism, commercialism, consumerism, and grand new technologies. After so much violence and bloodshed in the two World Wars, which were still fresh in everybody's memories, these well-educated, ambitious young people wanted to evangelize a tribe that had been notorious for their homicidal culture since the 1600's?
How should we view the enthusiastic willingness of 1950's missionaries to extend the Gospel of Christ to the Aucas with the way we do church today? How should we view that "recklessness" with the way we each live our own protected, insured, right-side-of-the-tracks lives? After all, we read the word "reckless" in letters like McCully's, and we get a spine-tingling jolt of adrenaline, but it's only as powerful as the urge we sometimes get to buy an SUV so we look like rugged outdoorsy folks while driving through suburbia to Wal-Mart. Sure, we may indulge an occasional, idealized image of a Christian recklessly pursuing God's plan for their life, but we're not truly reckless, are we?
When I saw the post by my friend on Facebook, I replied that substituting the word "selfless" for "reckless" makes a more accurate fit in McCully's sentence. After all, having one's desire be living a life of selfless abandon for the Lord is a Biblical goal, identifies the Source of one's strength, and acknowledges that what the Lord is able to accomplish through us is all about Him, not us. My Facebook friend agreed with me, along with another friend of hers.
Not that democracy determines truth, but it all seemed to make much better sense.
Walking (and Writing?) on Water
Then today, my mother brought to my attention a devotional in Oswald Chambers' classic My Utmost for His Highest for June 18th. Chambers' Biblical text for the day is taken from Matthew 14:29-30, which reads:
29"Come," he [Christ] said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Chambers points out that as long as Peter focused on Christ, he was able to leave the relative safety of the boat and ignore the storm about him - and even the very fact that he was walking on water - as he approached our Lord. But when his rational consciousness reverted from beholding Christ to beholding his physical circumstances, and the fact that the storm held peril for anybody in - or on! - the water, Peter began to sink.
After reading Chambers' devotional, I realized that many people who know me and my predicament probably consider me to be reckless - and not in a good way. I haven't been particularly realistic with this writing thing. I've woefully miscalculated the risks and rewards of manufacturing a writing career. I never expected to earn a fortune as a writer, but perhaps I was too foolish to hope that I could earn a living at it. Multiple times, I've laid out "fleeces" before the Lord, begging Him to affirm this path, and He always seems to do so. Just not with an income I can live on.
I have been kinda reckless, haven't I? I've been doing the same things that I dislike about the word "reckless." And to make matters worse, I haven't been acting recklessly because I thought I was honoring God. I wasn't acting selflessly in a righteous way - whatever selfless abandonment I've exhibited has been for my own fulfillment as a writer and wordsmith, with the hopes of finally snagging the attention of somebody important enough who can give me a good job. "Reckless abandon?" "Reckless selfishness" may be more like it.
Or is it? I pray daily that if I'm making some colossal mistake with this writing stuff, the Lord would shake me loose from this ambition and show me the correct path to follow. He's the One Who's given me this ability to write: quite honestly, most of my essays take shape without me even realizing it. Words and paragraphs come to me and I write them down. Sometimes I feel more like a scribe for Someone than the author of my own creative engine.
So is this the type of Godly recklessness McCully is talking about?
For his part, Chambers writes,
"If you debate for a second when God has spoken, it is all up. Never begin to say - 'Well, I wonder if He did speak.' Be reckless immediately, fling it all out on Him. You do not know when His voice will come, but whenever the realization of God comes in the faintest way imaginable, recklessly abandon. It is only by abandon that you recognize Him. You will only realize His voice more clearly by recklessness."
Interestingly enough, Chambers' devotional was originally published in 1935, which means that McCully likely borrowed his phrase "reckless abandon" from Chambers in 1950. And here it is again, in my face, in 2012.
Am I being reckless by pursuing a writing career? It's certainly not as dangerous or life-threatening an "abandonment" as going off to the jungles of Ecuador to evangelize a savage tribe... unless you count the editors and publishers who ignore me and my writings as a savage tribe!
But maybe if I focus on the "selfless" part of this etymology of "reckless," keeping my eyes on Christ can keep me from sinking into the storm of doubt all around me. Doubt that's trying to convince me that walking by faith isn't very safe.
How about you? Is there a storm raging about you, and is it distracting you from your focus on Christ? I guess some might say that ignoring the storm is a reckless thing to do.
Maybe, however, what we think is recklessness is actually selflessness.
More importantly, of course, is that to Christ, recklessness is His people not focusing on Him.