A Risk Worth Taking?

“Say you were walking along a boardwalk with your dog, and a stranger fell into the water. Your dog jumps in after him. You only have time to save one. Which would you save?”

My office mate Mike and I sometimes get into these wonderful philosophical or theological discussions; it gives us a welcome break from the regular daily grind. He has a master of divinity and I have a masters in theology, so it can get pretty thick at times, but we both have enough life experience to know that “book smarts” gets you only so far.

In this case, I knew where he was going with this: Because they are made in the image and likeness of God, human beings are intrinsically more valuable than animals. From a moral standpoint, the human must have priority.

Or should it? Stalling a bit, I asked, “What if the man fell into the water while trying to steal your dog? Or what if he tossed your dog into the water – and lost his balance – while your child was watching? Would that matter?”

“Nope,” Mike said with conviction. “The human still wins.”

“So . . . the dog and stranger are both in the water, under conditions dangerous enough that they cannot save themselves, and critical enough that I can save only one. My child is watching. If the ‘human still wins,’ no matter what – wouldn’t it be morally wrong for me to risk my own life, to save either of them? Isn’t my responsibility to my child greater than my responsibility toward a stranger?  And what if he fell while trying to grab your child, and you had to push him into the water to keep your child safe? Would you still jump in to fish him out?” And so it went.

At what point do the risks in life become (or cease to be) risks worth taking? As foster parents, we had to consider this pretty early on. What behaviors were we willing to deal with? Which were too much to handle? Ten years later, new risks emerge.  We were horrified to hear from one psychologist that parents in situations similar to ours frequently “give the child back to the state.”  We couldn’t imagine such a thing . . . but apparently it happens all too often.

What is it that makes us willing to take some risks, but not others? In a word, love.  In Romans 5 we read:

For Christ, while we were still helpless,

died at the appointed time for the ungodly.

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,

though perhaps for a good person

one might even find courage to die.

But God proves his love for us

in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Of course, most of us would find it difficult to risk physical death, although martyrdom is a not-uncommon pathway to sainthood. God calls most of us to risk something much less valuable: Our reputation. Creature comforts. Dreams. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As we approach the season of Lent, it’s time for us to consider: What are we willing to risk for God? What is he asking us to relinquish, out of love for him, in order to follow in the footsteps of our Savior just a little more closely?

Are you ready to take the leap?

During Lent, I am reprising my “40 Day Challenge” for all you CatholicLane readers who would like to give your marriage a bit of a “faith lift.” Each day has a specific quality or virtue and action step that will help you cultivate a more open and truly loving marriage. I hope to see you there!

Heidi Hess Saxton, new Editorial Director at Ascension Press,  is the author of Raising Up Mommy and My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. Heidi blogs at A Rosary for my GPS, an online resource for mothers of adopted, fostered, and special needs children. She and her husband foster-adopted their two children in 2002.