Abraham Lincoln once listened to the pleas of the mother of a soldier who’d been sentenced to hang for treason. She begged the President to grant a pardon. Lincoln agreed. Yet, he’s reported to have left the lady with the following words: “Still, I wish we could teach him a lesson. I wish we could give him just a little bit of hangin’.”
I’ve always loved reading those words from a short devotional written by Pastor Max Lucado. I always remember that little article after Thanksgiving Day is past when the time for giving thanks is over and I start to take things for granted once again.
His little devotion reminds me of the brevity of life, and how one day a person we love is here, but the next they may be gone.
Lucado explained what “a little bit of hangin’” meant when describing an incident that happened while friends were gathered at his home:
His 2-year-old daughter had accidentally fallen into their pool while no one was watching. Thankfully, another toddler, Beth Ann, discovered her drowning and called out for help. They rescued the little girl “who was simultaneously choking, crying, and coughing. She vomited a bellyful of water.” Dad held her as she cried. Mom began to weep. Then dad began to sweat. “For the rest of the day I couldn’t hold her enough, nor could we thank the little 3-year-old enough…I still can’t thank God enough. It was only a matter of minutes, maybe seconds. We almost lost her. The thought was numbing and convicting. It was a little bit of hangin’.”
Lucado called this almost-tragedy a divine slap, a gracious knock on the head, a severe mercy. Why? Because we all have a tendency to fall victim to the devil’s most cunning agents: The Agent of Familiarity.
“His commission from the black throne room is clear, and total: Take nothing from your victim; cause him only to take everything for granted. His goal is nothing less than to take what is most precious to us and make it appear most common.
“He won’t steal your salvation; he’ll just make you forget what it was like to be lost. You’ll grow accustomed to prayer and thereby not pray. Worship will become commonplace and study optional. With the passing of time he’ll infiltrate your heart with boredom and cover the cross with dust so you’ll be safely out of reach of change.
“Score one for the agent of familiarity.“He won’t take your children, he’ll just make you too busy to notice them. His whispers to procrastinate are seductive. There is always next summer to coach the team, next month to go to the lake, and next week to teach Johnny how to pray. “He’ll make you forget that the faces around your table will soon be at tables of their own. Hence, books will go unread, games will go unplayed, hearts will go unnurtured, and opportunities will go ignored. All because the poison of the ordinary has deadened your senses to the magic of the moment.”
The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 34:7)
It’s so easy to take each other for granted, isn’t it?
Years ago, I was at my Mom’s house with my stepdad and sister as I read Pastor Lucado’s article before we ate our Thanksgiving meal. Everyone listened. All were moved. A few weeks later my stepdad had a heart attack on the freeway and died. Suddenly.
In April 2016, I got the late-night call every parent dreads: My daughter was in an accident. I drove out on the dark Hill Country road only to find her vehicle upside down on the side of the road. Thankfully, she survived and suffered only a few scratches.
It was a little bit of hangin’.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
“A little bit of hangin’ might do us all a bit of good,” Lucado writes. “On a shelf above my desk is a picture of two little girls. They’re holding hands and standing in front of a swimming pool; the same pool from which the younger of the two had been pulled only minutes before. I put the picture where I would see it daily so I would remember what God doesn’t want me to forget. And you can bet this time I’m going to remember. I don’t want any more hangin’.
“Not even a little bit.”