“The intellect is there to instruct us after the act.” — Ray Bradbury
A few years ago, I took a flying leap off of a rock high above a river. But I jumped too far out, missing the deeper part of the river and landed in shallow water. It was so shallow, in fact, that I fractured a bone in my right foot.
Should I have looked before I leaped? Yep.
There are many times in my life where I would have been better off looking before leaping, as in that case. Just a few seconds of caution would have saved me weeks in a walking boot. On other occasions, a bit of due diligence has kept me from making some disastrous financial decisions.
But there are many things in my life that I’ve held back on that would have turned out great if I’d taken a leap, but I was overly cautions (i.e. afraid) and let the opportunities pass me by untried.
There is risk in everything in life. We can’t think through and control everything. We simply have to take that leap.
As Ray Bradbury suggests, thinking about what we’ve done is generally the second thing we do, not the first.
We can’t think our way into action, we have to act our way into thinking.
Back to jumping into rivers.
When I was a kid, we spent a part of many summers in the amazing Yosemite National Park. And dozens of kids would line the bridges over the Merced River, prodding each other into jumping the 10-20 feet into the water below.
I remember vividly as if I were there right now, standing on the edge of more than one bridge, trying to coax myself into jumping. I had enough information about the safety of it, with kids leaping on either side of me, but I couldn’t think my way into actually doing it. My brain would freeze every time.
It was only when I shut off the thinking (again, after watching others plunge in successfully) and the fear that went with it that I was able to jump in.
There’s a kind of thinking that can only happen after the fact. No amount of pre-leap preparation can take the place of post-leap re-thinking and adjusting.
When I became a husband, I looked back at the premarital classes my wife and I had taken and found them to be woefully inadequate in preparing us for what we would experience in married life together.
When I became a father, I smirked at the classes my wife and I had taken. Not only did they not prepare us for the birth, they definitely didn’t prepare us for raising children afterward. And neither did any of the pile of books we’d been given.
And when I became a pastor, I joined the ranks of those who talk about “what they didn’t teach us in seminary.” Even a three-year Master in Divinity, with internships and classes on seemingly every aspect of pastoring, didn’t do the job.
None of these things can be adequately prepared for. Nothing can. Even years of training aren’t enough. What’s most important is taking the leap and doing the essential thinking once you’re in the water.
And that second act of thinking is truly essential. It’s the difference between sinking and swimming.
Taking a Love and Logic parenting class after having our first two children has paid off hugely since then, forcing us to think well about how we lead and interact with our children, especially when they misbehave.
Spending time with other couples, exploring married life with them as companions on the journey while we each discover what love really looks like, has kept us from being alone, even when we’re bemused by the difficulties of marriage.
Reading books, attending conferences, and meeting with my covenant groups has been essential in thinking through and learning how better to pastor communities of saved sinners.
In every case, the questions I had before taking the leap have been replaced by questions asked by the circumstances leaping has plopped me into. It’s being in the mess that teaches the questions I had no idea needed to be asked beforehand.
Many times, I’ve asked, “Why did I take that leap in the first place?!”
But then I get on with asking better questions. Or at least, I try to get on with asking better questions. Almost always, I need the help of friends to get me to those better questions because of their added perspective and collective wisdom. But questioning through things afterward is essential.
The most important thing is to leap first and think about it later. Otherwise, I may never take the leap from whatever rocks, bridges, or rope swings God and life offer me. And that would be such a shame.