Risks Worth the Reward
Words by Cara Dillon Runyan
As I lay in bed, I roll over and see my husband’s bulletproof vest hanging from the dresser knob. I say a small prayer over it as he sleeps beside me, asking the Lord to make wearing it unnecessary and for it to work well if it needs to. He’ll get ready for the day in just a few hours by donning this layer and driving into the city he serves.
My husband, Nicholas, isn’t a police officer, though. He’s a mental health counselor. He studied feelings, not firearms. He’s been preparing to be a counselor for as long as I’ve known him, but I didn’t realize, in all those years, that I had my own vision for his future career.
I pictured him sitting in a leather armchair across from clients in a serene office, Kleenex on a table between them. He’d wear cardigan sweaters like Mr. Rogers and speak softly as clients reached for those tissues. This vision fit my tender husband, who we joke is “the nice one” between the two of us.
He has a photo of Mr. Rogers on his wall, so this career shift even surprised him. He’d tell you that throughout his childhood, risk was either minimized or sanitized. He wasn’t permitted to play football—too dangerous. He wasn’t allowed to play with play dough—too messy. He went through six years of swim lessons—just to be safe. He was taught the world was a place to fear. Stay safe and keep clean; those were the guidelines. Until they disappeared, I didn’t realize that those were my ruling hopes for our life, as well.
Instead, he wanted this new role—well outside of that calm office I pictured—accompanying police officers and responding to emergency mental health calls. He wanted to walk directly into others’ darkest moments, not wait for them to come to him. In an instant, the daily risk to his life went from nearly null to exponentially more as he traded that sweater vest for his bulletproof one.
Friends will ask him and I both what I think about his job. I think it’s vitally important, commendable even. There have been too many troubling situations between officers and citizens, especially those struggling with mental illness, on the news. Reasoning leads me to understand how important—how life-saving—his work can be. Less often, friends will ask how I feel about this work. Uneasy and nervous, mostly. His work scares me because I’ve seen widows of officers on the news, too.
Just a few years ago, a police officer in our community was killed on a mental health call. His funeral was held at our church, and it became national news, in part because of his wife’s testimony. Holding one of her young daughters on her hip, she read part of Job 1:21 through tears: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” I shudder thinking about how intimately she understands this declaration and whether I’d ever be required to share that knowledge. Most of all, I fear I will not be as faithful as she was—as faithful as I would want to be. No wonder Scripture constantly tells its characters and hearers to take heart. We cannot let fear have the last word in this world, making us shrink back—or worse, hold others back, as well.
It's not only wives who experience this temptation to steer others back to safety. Your son or daughter might decide to join the military tomorrow, and maybe that wasn’t your safe plan for them. Or a friend may share with you a risk they want to take in their career, and your own fear may sway your advice or encouragement. God might even ask you, as he has for so many before you, to risk your own safety, comfort, and image in obedience to him.
I've found some encouragement in a short parable that reminds me that God did not give us gifts—privileges, education, and more—to play it safe. Matthew 25 retells a story of three servants who were entrusted with their master’s riches. Immediately, two of the servants get to work, but the third digs a hole in the ground and hides the money. Later, he recounts how his fear guided his decision. The message is clear: fear leads us to shun risk and bury our Master’s gifts. We’ll be safe, clean, and ineffectual to him and the world around us. The Master commends the servants who risk. So, who am I to let my fear stand between my husband and his desire to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the Master? (Matt. 25:23)
Nicholas and I walk together to receive communion each Sunday at our church. But as we wait in line together, we receive the elements separately.
He walks ahead of me alone as our pastor reminds him of the blood that has been shed for him. I do the same as Nicholas walks away and our pastor addresses me alone. In the same way, we walk together in this life and we’ll each step before the Lord on our own. Just as I must fight fear and risk to obey God’s plan, I will not let my fear dictate his obedience, either. I have more to trust in than a bulletproof vest. He gives, and he may take away. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia, he’s not a God who is safe. But he is good.