When I was in college, I did some things that could have gotten me killed. And I did them with friends. I remember one night we climbed onto some train tracks and walked to the middle of a bridge over a shallow river. From where we stood, there was a 50- to 75-yard run in either direction. And when the river was low, the drop down to the water was more than 50 feet.
We had studied that bridge. We knew there was a platform we could climb down to and actually watch the train pass over us. It was an adventure none of us could resist. We figured not many people had seen the undercarriage of a train—and what else was there to do on a Tuesday night.
There was never a fear of death, although we did risk our lives. The real fear came in getting caught. We went to a small Baptist school in a small town; most of us had grown up there. We would be on the front page of the newspaper by morning if we were caught. But it was worth the risk.
We climbed down to the platform and found that we would not be the first to survive being run over by a train. Graffiti covered the most accessible parts of the concrete pillars that would hold death from coming down on us. This did not make the experience less thrilling. The space between the platform and the tracks was just above an average man’s height. Most of us could stand directly under the center of the track and look right into the guts of the train.
We waited over an hour for the next train. We were tired, but once we heard its familiar rumble, all sleepiness left us. The tracks began to shake and I remember wondering why trains had horns at all. The noise was loud enough to make you cover your ears. And when the train approached the platform, I did. I tried to watch it pass over, but I was too frightened to keep my head up. I think I blamed it on the dust that the train shook down on us.
After the train passed, we looked at each other with faces that asked both, “Is everyone OK?” and “How awesome was that?” Our hearts were pounding in our chests as we climbed back onto the tracks and walked to our car.
There is something about risking your life with friends that takes those friendships deeper than others. The experience binds you together because, to you, it was epic. An experience like ours on the tracks surpassed the ordinary night of watching a movie or playing pool. We had a memory with each other that no one else shared.
Although we did not have many experiences like that night, there are several nights of stupidity I wish I would have handled differently. But it’s difficult for me to regret the nights that brought my friendships to a new level. Without those risks and times of uncertainty, we would never have been so close.
It was not until a few years later that I realized how clearly this lesson can be applied to my relationship with Jesus. There are some days, or weeks or even months when I feel unsettled in my faith. I believe in Jesus and my relationship with Him is ongoing, but at times, He feels more like an acquaintance. We wave at each other on the street. Some days we’ll stop and talk and I’ll mention some things that have been bothering me, and He always knows how to make me feel better. But the level of closeness is not satisfying. I want more. I want to feel like I felt that night with my friends on the tracks.
What I learned from this disconnect is that my friendship with Jesus lacked life-threatening experiences. Do not misunderstand: I am not saying that risk of physical injury is the only way to feel close with God. Risking your life with Jesus is more about doing the things you have always been too scared or too uncomfortable or too weak to do without Him.
Imagine Jesus as the catalyst friend in your life who is always getting something started. He is the guy who plans the class IV rapid float trips and the mountain climbing adventures. He always asks if you would like to join His adventure, but you always turn Him down because it’s not something you’re used to, or it sounds frightening. He doesn’t press you too much because He is a good friend and He respects you. But He knows what you will do instead. You will go back to what is safe. And your relationship with Him will stay the same.
Now imagine that one day, you decide to join Jesus on one of His adventures. The two of you go white water rafting. In the most violent part of the river, you are thrown from the raft. In a panic, you begin flailing around like a child learning to swim. But Jesus, with all His experience in situations like these, calmly leans over the raft and pulls you back in.
When you and Jesus are sitting around the campfire that night, you thank Him for saving your life. Jesus responds, “No, thank you for coming with me!” It is in those moments that a memory is made with Jesus that no one else shares.
Jesus has never lied to us about the dangers of following Him. There will be uncertain times—but each adventure we go on with Him will produce a memory that slowly brings us closer.
Evan Bell is a third-year student at the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, AR. He lives in Little Rock with his wife, Rachel, and their dog, Jack.