I idolized my sister’s hair. Honestly, I idolized everything about my older sister. But her long blond hair, like spun gold, was an object of pure envy. Even as a four-year-old, I knew it was special. Next to my own brunette pixie, it was to me the holy grail.
One warm fall afternoon, my sister was spinning on our tire swing. It was a true used tire, attached to a true tree with true rope, probably from the barn. The rope was bristly and thick and rough. Too little to use the swing or push her or be of any help at all, I usually watched my sister twist up tight in one direction, and then unwind in the other, her long ponytail giggling behind her.
On this windy Kansas day, I was inside with Mom. I don’t remember all the details of what happened next, and some might be filled in more by family folklore than memory. Our German Shepherd Lady started to bark, alerting Mom to come quickly. (Actually, this might have come from a recent episode of Lassie.)
Mom ran outside to find that my sister’s ponytail had become hopelessly entwined in the rope as she had spun around, carefree. Crying, my sister’s head was being pulled tighter and tighter toward the rope, threatening to yank every hair from her head. Mom rushed inside and came out with a butcher knife. (That’s when I knew it was serious.) She did the horrible task of cutting off every bit of my sister’s ponytail to free her. I watched in utter disbelief.
After that day, I blamed the rope. That mean, scratchy, hard-to-hold beast had grabbed the princess’s hair and stolen it away. I avoided that swing until the day it finally came down years later.
We all get caught up in the rope from time to time. Or at least part of the rope.
Francis Chan explains our lives with a rope analogy. Imagine that a rope is long, that is flows out your front door, down the street of your neighborhood, and across town. It goes to the state line, and to the edge of the continent. It then extends around the globe and into space. It goes on forever. That rope represents your existence. Then Chan holds up the end of the long rope and shows a red section that is about three inches long. He says that red part represents our time on earth. The white part, the rest of the rope, represents our time somewhere else.
The rope is a timeline of our existence. One way or another, we live forever.
Contrary to my four-year-old thinking, the rope is not the enemy. But it turns out the Enemy can use our entanglement in it to steal our treasure away.
We spend so much time worrying and obsessing over what goes on in this world, in the brief red part: family, careers, finances, retirement, even social causes. In our carefree spinning, we can get hopelessly caught up in the first three inches.
These are important and can certainly affect the white part, but they were never meant to be the focus. The white part of the rope was always intended to be the main event. Satan uses earthly things, even our blessings, to distract us. To entwine us. For most of my life, this has worked marvelously on me.
Certain events bring that white eternal part of the rope to the forefront of our minds. One is a personal life threatening illness. Heart failure is considered a chronic, progressive disease. It has caused me to grasp life by the ears, look full in the face of my own mortality, and see clearly that the red part ends. And the white part doesn’t.
But we all have a chronic, progressive disease called life. Some just never get the benefit of a formal diagnosis.
Without that wake-up call, we are like a child in early June. We believe that summer will never end, or at least, it will last so long we can forget about the end. Parents know, because of wisdom and experience, that summer is short.
The red part of the rope is quickly past.
So, during the short red part of my rope, I have learned to lavishly appreciate my weary spouse. To boldly love on my grown children and my aging parents. To let my steadfast friends in to see my accumulating dust and bills and worries. To question, wrestle, and celebrate my still-faithful God.
But I am challenged to always keep an eye toward, and yearning for, the endless white section of eternity. Paul wrote about keeping his eye on that finish line. Concentrating only on the red part of the rope can pull us away from what we are intended to be and destined to do. It can rob us of our treasure.
I don’t want to get tangled up in this world. My one life, my one eternal life, matters more than that.
And when the stakes are that high, it takes more than a loyal dog’s bark to free us.