Just before a soldier made his first parachute jump, his sergeant reminded him, “Count to ten and pull the first rip cord. If it snarls, pull the second rip cord for the auxiliary chute. After you land, our truck will pick you up.” The paratrooper took a deep breath and jumped. He counted to ten, and pulled the first cord. Nothing happened. He pulled the second cord. Again, nothing happened. As he careened crazily earthward, he said to himself, “Now, I’ll bet that truck won’t be there either.” Ah, nothing worse than falling and having no one to pick you up.
Back in 2006 at the Academy Awards, actress Jennifer Garner, while approaching the podium, tripped not once, but twice. While millions of viewers gasped, Ms. Garner balanced herself and thinking quickly on her feet, said, “And I do all my own stunts, too.”
We’re always falling. Me and you. And Adam and Eve, Senor Egg Humpty Dumpty, and the rest of their children. Falls are by definition unplanned and unexpected events. Have you ever run into the furniture in the middle of the night and taken a fall? Remember how Chevy Chase used to have falling as a regular part of his comedy routine? The Apostle Paul commented on this tripping trauma, though he had spiritual spills, not physical flops in mind. Writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor.10:12), he said, “So if you think you are standing, take heed lest you fall.”
Dr. James Butler of Harvard did a study on why people fall when walking. He said that falling often has to do with things like the inclination of the souls of the feet and the lateral sway of the trunk relative to how far apart the feet are. (My thoughts exactly!) He said that one of the salient points is that the smallest thing, like toe clearance, when diminished by even a fraction of an inch, can increase the risk of someone falling. It is often the little things that trip us up, Dr. Butler noted. We think that it is the big piece of furniture or the missed step on the porch, but it is usually the little things that make us fall. Likewise, in our spiritual lives, with the big sins, it is hard to accidentally commit them. We know we are headed down the wrong path. But ah, the little ones trip us up.
William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury back in the 1940’s and one day he went to hear a well-known American evangelist preach about God’s forgiveness of sins. The preacher used the familiar text, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Temple said, “I went to the meeting in a serious, inquiring spirit, but I found myself unmoved by the sermon, for alas my sins were not as scarlet, they were gray – all gray. They were not dramatic acts of rebellion, but the colorless sins of omission, inertia and timidity.”
Maybe your sins and mine today are gray, not scarlet. Could it be that it is the small things that are tripping you up?
When Sheri and I lived in Houston, Texas, we would from time to time go to the Ship Channel for dinner. Ship Channel? Well, as you know Houston is one of the great ports in the world even though it is not on the coast. Not a problem for Texans; they just built a big ditch from the coast to Houston and wah lah, you have a port city. They call the big ditch the Ship Channel. There were great some restaurants there, such as Brady’s Landing and Shanghai Red’s. Well, if you get a table near the windows you can watch the ships. Now be warned this is not like being at Captain Anderson’s in Panama City or watching the yachts at Harbor Town in Hilton Head. No, no, at the Ship Channel, you watch the diesel driven giant cargo ships. They aren’t pretty—except pretty ugly. But what is cool is that, if you are lucky, you get to watch one of those mighty, gigantic, rusty sea-vessels turn around. What might surprise you is how they turn around. Tiny tug-boats, those snub-nosed, midgets of the waterways, are used to turn the mighty ships around and head them back out to sea.
Isn’t it so true of our lives? Sure there are the big ones – the bottle, drugs, cheating – the big furniture at night. But for most of us, it is the tiny tugs that steer us towards shallow water. Evil rarely comes to us as a fire-breathing sea monster. It is the tiny tug, the fleeting feeling of anger, resentment, laziness, idle mind, resentment, the simple touch or look that gets so close to us and ultimately, leads us to fall.
So, this Lenten season it might be good to focus on the tiny tugs.
And by the way, when you fall, I do hope that truck is there to pick you up.