Sixteen-year-old Makenzie Wethington had no inhibitions when she jumped out of an airplane on Jan. 25, 2014 — until her parachute didn’t open. Wethington’s story was quickly picked up by the media because somehow she survived her 3,500-foot plummet, suffering a broken back, fractured ribs and hips, damage to her liver and mild brain damage. As of last month, the New York Daily News reported that Wethington was already walking with assistance, and doctors expect her to make a full recovery.
Like Wethington, when I was younger, I was fearless. I didn’t care. I didn’t think. Just like most other children and some teens, I suppose, I assumed if it looked fun, it must be fun (and safe). I never jumped out of an airplane, but I remember playing in the Tennessee mountain brooks on family vacations during my elementary years. My brother and I would dash across the rocks, oblivious to the freezing mountain water below us. Sure, we fell in sometimes, but rarely, and it never stopped us anyway.
I miss the days when I could step out on the ledge of a mountain cliff or lean over a lighthouse rail at the beach and be completely unaware of the height. My mom, who isn’t fond of heights, would tightly grip the back of my shirt and attempt to tug me away from the edge.
But though I miss all those things, I’m finding it more and more difficult to ever want to do them again.
I don’t know when I reached that turning point, going from carefree to careful. Maybe it was gradual as I experienced life, made mistakes and, hopefully, learned from them. I suppose that’s usually what happens to all of us as we grow older. We tend to stop and consider all the possible consequences that could come from a decision, especially a high-risk decision. Age and experiences bring awareness, and awareness brings fears and reservations.
But then we have a choice.
We can let those fears completely control us and prevent us from taking any risks, ever. But then we’d be like the one servant in the Gospel of Matthew who hid the “talent” his master gave him because he didn’t want to risk losing it.
Or we can learn to harness our fears and aversions to make calculated and even well-informed decisions about what risks to take and how far to go with them. The other two servants in the parable took a risk and doubled their money because of it (Matthew 25:14-30).
Analyzing every move first doesn’t typically make things as fun. But it probably helps keep us alive longer.
I can’t help wondering if Wethington will ever skydive again. Or if she does, will she be able to receive the same carefree thrill from it?
But if there is a “next time,” I’m sure she’ll be prepared. She’ll jump, aware of the worst that can happen and have a plan, such as a back-up parachute.
She may have lost some of her ability to be blissfully oblivious to danger, but she gained a piece of experience that can transform into wisdom if she allows.
We can still take the risks, but as we grow older, we gain more wisdom in deciding which risks to take. And sometimes, God may lead us to take a risk that leads us outside our comfort zone. Then we have the choice to either stay “safe” where we are, or to see how God can abundantly bless if we take the leap and trust Him to catch us.
But unlike the risks we choose to take, the risks God wants us to take will always bring us the most good.