Holding the Rope

The toddlers walk along, leaving the safety and warmth of their Sunday School classroom behind for the scary, cold outdoors.  Bundled up in their coats, they are headed for a short session on the playground, a time when they can work out their energy and be ready to do the craft work which is scheduled later.  This walk is a time-honored tradition, one born of necessity, but also one which has become a valued memory for several generations of children here and, truth be known, for this aging man watching from the warmth of the church entryway.  They don’t always go to the playground.  Sometimes they wander into the worship center where the musicians are putting the finishing touches on a new song they’re teaching in the service later that day.  Sometimes, they amble back to the wooded area behind the buildings to explore God’s creation.  But there is one thing (besides the teachers) which ties these events together.

The rope.  Yes, you read that right.  On every occasion when the class ventures out from the four walls of its classroom, each of the little tykes is clutching onto a rather thick piece of knotted rope.  The rope is about fifteen feet long, with a teacher on each end and the children spaced out in between.  The knots are placed about a foot apart and allow for every child to have an area of the tether to claim as his or her own.  Their hands may slip from the knot in front to the one behind, but they stay in their own assigned space, allowing the child ahead and following their own part of the rope.  Nothing ties them to the rope, but they are held together in a group as they take their walks each week.  I’ve never seen a child let go and run away from the group; perhaps because of a stern warning beforehand, but I suspect it is more likely that none of them wants to disappoint Ms. Barb or Mr. Jim.  Regardless, the system works as the little darlings wander wherever the prescribed path takes them each Sunday. 

I’ve seen news photos of rescues from the rushing waters of rivers at flood stage.  In the middle of the maelstrom, a hapless person clutches a snag, precariously balancing on the mostly submerged branch as the flood pulls at them, threatening to suck them away at any moment.  The rescuers on the bank come to their aid quickly.  Holding to a rope which looks suspiciously like the one the children are holding today, one man ventures into the water at the edge.  When a few feet of rope has been fed out, another man enters the current, then another and another, until the leading rescuer reaches the stranded person.  Sometimes, just getting the victim to let go of their clutching hold on the perch takes as long as the rescuers took to get into position.  Eventually though, the frightened, half-drowned person is convinced that safety lies within reach and they are shuttled, from one person along the rope to the next, until they reach the shore. 

How does it make that much difference, you may ask?  If one person has been swept away by the flood, why wouldn’t all the rest of them suffer the same fate?  The only answer is found in the shared strength of all the participants.  If one man loses his footing, the two on either side of him stand firm and, holding to the rope, he is able to regain his footing.  There are also people on the shore securing the end of the rope, heading off a disaster, should a number of them succumb to the fury of the current at one time.  There is no one hero, no superstar who conducts the rescue; just a bunch of regular guys doing their jobs.

I’m pretty sure that’s the way life works most of the time.  We get caught up in the current of the daily grind and without warning, we’re swept off our feet, careening wildly down the waterway.  Up ahead, we see a glimmer of hope, and in our own strength we grab hold.  The respite is short lived and we realize that the current is tearing at us, willing us to give up and drop back down in, to be carried along wherever it will take us.

You’ve been there, haven’t you?  You think there is no one in the world who cares and who will risk himself to rescue you.  It is possible to isolate yourself to the extent that you don’t know of anyone who would make such a risk, but that doesn’t make it factual.  I have seen, on any number of occasions, people who would take the chance to help a person they don’t know at all.  Regardless of your situation, it is safe to say that there is help nearby.  The team with the rope is standing by and all it takes is a call for help.  And, here’s the odd thing…As we learn to trust each other and we ourselves venture out to find others in the same condition, we might even discover that the safest place we can be is to be part of the rescue team.

Too simplistic?  Perhaps.  I’m not always sure if my advice will work.  Tonight is such a time.  I wanted to talk about the young person I know of who lost her grip on safety this weekend and was lost in that current, but I don’t know how to make the application.  I want to believe that a rescue team could have helped her.  I want to think, even now, that the rope is ready and the personnel won’t miss the next opportunity.  I want to. 

I wish I had all the answers.  I don’t.  But I’m wondering if the little kids don’t understand how this thing works a little better than we do sometimes.  We’re not made to strike out on our own in this wild world.  We hang onto the rope of faith and we do it with each other.  If one of us happens to let go for a moment, we help them to grab hold again.  We help each other.  No heroes, no victims…just people counting on each other; out for a walk in God’s creation.  It’s a pretty good system.

I’m going to keep holding on to the rope and I promise that I’ll do my best to watch out for you.  I hope you’ll be doing the same.

The scary, cold world is waiting…

“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
(Hebrews 10:25~ESV)

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
(Ernest Hemingway~American writer/novelist~1899-1961)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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