On a recent trip to southwest Virginia, out near Honaker, I had the opportunity to speak at a wonderful church anniversary celebration. Following the worship time, we had a meal and I was seated next to a 97-year-old gentleman. As we were talking, he told me about how many of his friends had passed away. He knew his time was coming soon. He was in the midst of dealing with some major cancer issues.
He fondly reminisced about his boyhood in the area and a favorite pastime in the town’s creek. He would go down with the older boys and they would swing on a rope from a tree into that fast-running creek. They would start with a run, get on the rope, go out in the middle, release and fall into the water and disappear for a period of time. Down the stream their heads would pop up and they would swim to the shore, only to come back to the rope and do it again. He sat there for hours and watched those boys do that, scared to death to do it himself.
But one day they talked him into attempting it so he grabbed the rope, walked back and took off with a run and swung out over the creek. He got to the mid-way point where he was supposed to let go and he just could not. He held onto that thing. The boys had to climb out on the limb, pull the rope back and let him get off. Nobody said anything. They kept swinging, disappearing, popping up downstream to eventually come back on shore.
Finally one day he grabbed that rope and took off with a run and right over the center of the stream, just at that frightening moment, with that water moving under him so fast, he let go. Sure enough, he went under water, popped up, went to shore and couldn’t wait to do it again. He said, “As I get ready to face my death, I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’ve watched so many friends grab that rope and swing out and let go.”
I thought about that as a lesson for life. All of us are dealing with change. Change is frightening. When you get right in the middle of it, you aren’t quite sure you can let go. Put yourself around those who have let go, those who have tried new things. They disappear for a while but they pop back up alive again. Maybe for us to change we need to learn from others who have gone before us.
As we swing out, as we let go, let us trust God for a brand new beginning.
John Upton ([email protected]) is executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. He also is president of the Baptist World Alliance.