I went paintballing for the first time today. I had no idea what to expect…I’d been hit with laser tag lasers hundreds of times but dreaded an actual projectile coming into contact with my skin. They told us in the orientation that a paintball travels at 200 miles per hour and that heightened my anxiety. Really, I was not afraid of the pain so much as I was afraid that the pain would be so great as to turn me into a wussy liability to my team. When we heard the ref yell “GO GO GO!” at our first game, I rushed to cover and started trying to shoot. Emphasis: trying. The trigger wouldn’t engage because I had the safety on. Safety off, I started firing at targets and missing by a mile. Then when my buddy got hit, I took over his position…for like twenty seconds. That’s when a tiny orange ball of death hurtled through the air at breakneck pace and made contact with…my neck. “OW!”, I screamed, and sauntered off the field in defeat.
That shot hurt. But honestly, it wasn’t that bad and it was way worse than I expected. Also, I knew if I kept living in fear of getting shot our team would never win. A voice spoke in my head, “You can win or you can be safe, but you can’t do both.” With each progressive game I went further and further, getting shot every time and weathering it…shot in the kidney, in the mouth, in the arm. It hurt every time, but every hit made me bolder to face the next one, too.
My favorite moment of the day was at a location which featured a line of several wooden buildings about a hundred yards long and a burned-out truck in the center. It was a capture-the-flag game, with flags on either side of the truck; our flag was on the side of the truck opposite our base. The area around the truck was a killing field, surrounded by elevated positions only a few yards away. I had already gotten hit trying to flank to the right and quickly grab the flag from a covered position a couple of yards away; I got hit in the arm but shot the other guy in the face. But that wasn’t the coolest part, not by far. After we had softened the opposition’s defenses a little bit, my teammate Craig ran out of ammo, but didn’t run out on the fight. He came near the truck in a covered position and then, with a burst of courage, broke cover and dove into the truck. There was a piece of corrugated metal which floored the inside of the burned-out hunk of junk. In a moment of quick thinking, Craig grabbed it and used it as a shield, inching forward under a hail of paint pellets. Every enemy defender’s gun was focused on Craig, who was inches away from their flag. Exposing his hand for a brief moment, Craig snatched the flag back into the rusted vehicle, again using his makeshift shield, and still being pummeled by dozens of paint-filled bullets. When he reached our side of the field, he yelled for suppressing fire and got none. It was sad to see his moment of valor rewarded by five shots to the chest when he dropped his shield to run for cover.
It was awesome to see Craig’s courage, his focus on winning the game, whatever the cost to him. Even if we lost (which we did), I was uplifted by his show of valor. I figured we didn’t have enough guys to give Craig the cover he needed, but at least we tried. But my spirits were dampened immediately after the game ended, as I saw five guys walk out of the bunker thirty yards away from Craig’s desperate stand, with clips nearly full of ammo. They desired safety more than the win.
“You can win or be safe, but not both.” As Christians we are in a struggle every day to win others to Christ. We believe the stakes are high. But many of us (myself too often included) hang out with each other far away from the action, full of knowledge and talent but too afraid of the sting of rejection to use them. We choose to be safe and lose rather than be risky and win. In seasons where I have been both in sharing my faith, I found that the rejection and awkwardness that comes with it was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be and that the more I shared my faith the easier I found it to be bold, just like my paintball experience. Are Christians living too much with a “safety first” mindset? Are most of us hanging out in the safe zone while people perish in the killing field every day? Perhaps I need to drop my desire to be safe and take a few hits for the sake of the kingdom, remembering that the win is more important than anything.