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Safety second.

Recently I’ve developed an unkind reputation for apparently not putting my own safety first. This is most evident to people when they see me taking that most risky form of transport, my bike, out for a spin without that most sure-fire survival method, a helmet, accompanying it. They think above all else, safety should be our top priority in life, and I would disagree. I don’t want to off– in fact, scratch that. I do want to offend, because sometimes that’s the best way to get your message across.

But first, I’d like to clarify what I am not going to say, however much it may sound like it. I am not telling people that it’s good to follow my example on this particular issue. Indeed, part of the point I’d like to make is that we all have different gifts. One of mine, for example, is writing. One of yours, perhaps, is to critique my writing. That is not the issue here though. In approaching this issue, it would be wise for me to backtrack a little, so I can regain some lost integrity.

This post is partly a response, not to spark a debate that I would inevitably find myself on the losing side of, but because I realise that sometimes I can make comments that don’t tell the full story. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell that full story, if you will (partly also to show people I’m not as arrogant as the proceeding comment makes me sound). One mistake I made recently was to throw out a comment saying something along the lines of “in all my years of cycling I’ve not been in an accident”. Now, this statement is only true from a certain point of view. From a different point of view it is entirely false, because I have indeed crashed quite a few times while on my bike. I have never been seriously injured in a crash, though. Why? Because at those points I would always be wearing my helmet.

What I should say when presented with the opportunity to make such a statement is that I’ve not been involved in an accident while not wearing a helmet. You see the difference?

I’ve crashed my bike several times, and I wear a helmet during those times when it seems possible that it could happen. Certainly, I have very much appreciated the invention. I remember one particular instance almost two years ago when I went over an uncovered manhole and, due to my helpful helmet, didn’t split my head open on the pavement as a result. All I got instead was a nice bong and ten seconds later I was back on the bike and cycling off. In Belfast, where you find situations like this happening quite frequently, I usually wear my helmet for sure. A bulletproof one, preferably.

I believe I’ve also wrote on this very blog about my bike crashing exploits in the past and (thankfully, again) they’ve been more humourous than tragic – but I think that should ideally be the case in relation to how others react to incidents involving yourself anyway. It is the best form of dealing with stuff, after all. Humour is certainly more sustainable than grief.

Now that whoever’s reading this knows these things, it is perhaps understandable why I give the (false) impression of not caring. If I give that impression, it is not through arrogance but through experience. In reality, I’ve probably had many more crashes (again, all wearing a helmet) than the people reading me the kid’s safety first manual. So, in the nicest possible way, please, save me the condescension. It’s not that I need to be ‘taught a lesson’, as you may privately put it. It’s that there’s actually, for me, a lot more to this particular lesson in life.

I’m not just writing to prove a selfish point here. There is a bigger underlying theme to this, that I’ve already alluded to, which I think can become a problem for people (or, more specifically, for Christians) if they aren’t made aware of it.

We can probably all agree that when we get hurt, the people we love also get hurt. We can then agree that no-one normally wants to get hurt so that the people we love don’t get hurt. This concept is very much behind the scolding one will get when they don’t look after themselves, as people call them up on those who will suffer as a consequence. We can be made to feel selfish, as if we’re living for ourselves and not taking others’ feelings into consideration. This may be the case, it may not, but it is likely to become the case if this is what others tell you.

Now in terms of general everyday life, you may not see this approach as much of a problem. In fact you would encourage this kind of scolding; it is how you expect others to act when faced with someone who isn’t, by your definition, ‘taking care of themselves’. And sometimes, let’s be honest, you need to scare people into doing the right thing. It may be the only way they will learn. Yeah, so I’m using helmets and bikes in this instance but the analogy can also apply to bigger issues. It can apply to life itself. Safety becomes the chief priority, if not for our own sake than for the sake of the loved ones around us.

But do you see that there’s one important element in all of this that I’ve neglected to mention thus far? Ironically it is the most important element, the one that should come first but is usually inserted last, when people find they need comfort. Sometimes we forget this: if we love our friends and family, how much more does God love them? If our friends and family love us, how much more does God love us? The authority that all of this stuff, the very things we’re trying to protect ourselves from, once held over us is gone! Even when death comes, when our time on this earth ends, God remains. To protect, to comfort, all in accordance with His will. This is my point. God first, safety second.

We can put more significance on the feelings of other people than on God, and it leads us into all kinds of long term problems. We may willingly miss a clear calling from God in an effort to appease the opinion of man. Indeed, for many people this is the major stumbling block for Christianity as a whole.

You’re probably wondering how I got to that point from talking about wearing a helmet? Well, by exaggerating my point, mostly. A more important question to ask yourself is this: what kind of example am I setting for others? I like to think I’m setting the example that God comes first, but I realise that’s relative. It depends on your definition, your opinion, of it. So instead I’ll say the real advice that I’d like to give to the objective individual: wear a helmet, not because you have any fear of death, or want to save others pain, but because living longer in this life gives you more time to prepare God’s work for the next.

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