15. Three Stories
This is a short story. The first part of the Work is about observing, but you can't do anything about what you are observing, which is a frustrating feeling. You may want to "do" and you may even ask the Lord to let you "do" but He doesn't seem to listen to you. He said He would but He doesn't seem to. It doesn't seem right. That is what this story is about.
There were two fellows, Charlie and John. Charlie was about 5'4" and a muscular little guy. He grew up on the streets and fought a lot, was tough and mean in a way, but he also had a good personality, and was an intelligent fellow and a good friend. Then there was John. John was 6'7, weighed 383 pounds, did a lot of Golden Glove boxing and had a black belt in Karate. He was the kindest man you'd ever want to meet and gentle as a lamb.
Now Charlie and John used to hang around together and they were very good friends. John had noticed, however, that one trait his friend Charlie had which he didn't like was arrogance. Charlie was arrogant and was the kind of guy that if you pulled up too close to his car, he'd jump out and say, "What're you doing? You want to fight? Come on, I'll fight you!" He'd even say it to big guys, and he scared a lot of big guys. They thought this little guy must know something, so they didn't want to bother with him. No one ever confronted him, so his arrogance and his irritation and his aggressiveness continued. Other than that he was a real nice person.
One day Charlie and his big friend John were at the park, hanging around, and John got interested in one of the games going on in the park. Just then these two guys who had just gotten out of prison after doing 17 years, came along and they liked to fight a whole lot, were more than happy to fight. So little Charlie ran into them and started his act. "Hey, apologize to me. You bumped me. If you don't apologize you're in trouble! You want to fight?" And those guys just out of prison were about to give him a fight when John appeared. John said, "Hey, look what they've got over here," and the rough guys looked, and seeing John, they just left. When Charlie saw them leaving he was even more convinced that they thought he was a tough guy, and calling after them he said, "That'll show you! That'll show you!"
Later, in another place, Charlie and John were walking down the street in a bad neighborhood. A couple of bikers were there, and John walked into a store. The bikers came over and pulled their bikes close to Charlie's car.
Charlie said, "Get those bikes out of there! I don't like you being that close! You might scratch my car! And I can't open my door! Hey, why don't you step up here?"
One of the bikers stepped up and said, "Yeah, I'll fight you!" and he took out a chain and wrapped it around his knuckles. Another guy took out a knife and said, "Yeah, we're ready for you! Come on...."
Charlie began to experience pain and then fear for the first time. That was a new feeling for him. The bikers began coming closer to him. Charlie said, "Wait you guys, look... It's not that important to me, I don't care. You didn't scratch my car. Never mind."
Now just as Charlie was half finished saying this, John came out of the store behind him. The bikers looked at John and left. And Charlie, not having seen John behind him, thought, "Geez, not only am I tough guy, I'm a good talker. I can really talk my way out of things!"
The next time they were at a park fishing, the same circumstances and the same thing happened. Except this time, John took a little longer to get there. And Charlie got all the way down to, "Please! Please!! Don't hurt me! You don't need to hurt me. I'm just a guy who has a family and...Please leave me alone."
Just then they saw John and they beat it. Charlie thought, "Geez, not only am I tough, and a good talker, but I can even manipulate these guys. I'm all right!"
Well, the last time came around. It just happened that John had seen the last two encounters and he knew what happened to Charlie. So, this last time, Charlie and John were fishing. Two big tough guys came up and started a whole thing up over again. This time the tough guys finally got their chains out.
This time Charlie was down there and he was begging, "Please! Please! I"m nothing! Look, I'm not a tough guy! I'm nobody. Honest, I"m no good. I just pretend to be tough! I'm not that way...Please, please! John! I'm scared! John! Help me! Help me!! John, where are you? Help! I need help!"
Just then John stepped out. The tough guys left.
Charlie said, "John, where were you? I was yelling for you! Why didn't you come sooner? Where were you?"
John said, "I was there the whole time!"
Charlie said, "What do you mean, you were there the whole time?"
"I was there the whole time!" John said.
Charlie said, "Well why didn't you help me?"
John said, "I did help you. Think about it."
From that day on Charlie was a different man. He was a gentle man. He was a humble man. He had really changed. Something had changed in him. It had been a very valuable experience for him. John was a good friend and had helped him out a whole lot.
There is another story that is really short. It is about another way the Lord helps us feel some self-worth or the "as of self."
There was this man who thought he was worthless, thought he couldn't do anything. He felt he had nothing to contribute to life. He had his job, but he had a job just like everybody else. If he was fired, somebody else could take that job. He had a family like everybody else. He didn't feel very important. He was 48 years old. He had never done anything really significant in his life. So he didn't feel very valuable. He felt useless and worthless.
One day he went fishing. Sitting right beside him was a little kid, a 6 year old boy. Beautiful little kid, innocent and wonderful. And it was a brand new experience for the man, fishing with this little boy. So he helped the boy learn how to fish, how to let out the line, and how to count while you let the line down so that when you catch a fish you'll know where the school of fish is. He took him out in the boat and taught him how to bob the sinker up and down and catch flounders. He spent the day with the boy and came to like him a whole lot.
When they were coming in there was a storm-watch out and waves were getting big and beginning to pour over the front of the boat. There was real danger. They could even see ships starting to capsize, people starting to swim.
The man had told the boy he wasn't much of a swimmer. "I can't really swim, " he said when they had talked about it, "I'd be lucky to save myself."
The boy couldn't swim at all. But the man had said, "Don't worry. You're fine. This is a big ship. You don't have to worry about that."
So, they were coming in and they could see that on the dock stood the big guy who had been the lifeguard for years. The man and the lifeguard had known each other for years, in fact they were good friends. The lifeguard had been doing his job for so long that he could throw the life belt right to you no matter where you were. You wouldn't even have to swim for it; he would throw it right to you. He not only knew the man who had been fishing with the boy, he knew the whole background of his life and he understood where the man was emotionally.
The lifeguard saw the boat start to tip over and saw that they were trying to swim the best they could. The man was flailing around in the rough water and the boy was about 10 feet away. The lifeguard took the life preserver and was about to throw it to the boy, and then he changed his mind. He threw it so that it landed a few feet away from the boy. The little boy couldn't reach the buoy but he was trying awfully hard. Then the man swam over and just pushed it toward him and the boy's hand went on it. And as the boat went by the man pulled himself and the boy into it.
The man felt different from that day on. He felt different about doing the little things in life, different about the little things he had done in life. He felt altogether changed.
When people praised him, the man said to the lifeguard, "I didn't do anything."
The lifeguard said, "Yes, you did. You saved that boy's life."
"No," the man said, "all I did was just push the life preserver an inch or two toward him."
The lifeguard said, "Yes, that's right, and saved that boy's life."
So the man goes to work every day, and he feels very differently about himself and all the things that he does.
I want to tell you a story about Jake and Harry and faith. Saving faith. Jake and Harry grew up in a small town. Both of their families had summer homes, down off the coast of Carolina. Along that coast of Carolina in the summer time big storms come up; hurricanes, thunder storms, and so forth. When that happens, sometimes you get a flood. Both of the boys had their houses on the peninsula and it can be very serious business. They realized that they really had to learn to swim. Not just because it is a pleasant thing to do, but because both of them had experienced seeing their families threatened. Both had seen people drown in the storms. So they were very serious about it. But they were young.
Now in their small town, fortunately, there was a pool with a swimming instructor and the pool opened early each spring. Jake was privileged enough to be able to go take lessons, but Harry had a job and wasn't able to do that.
So once a week the swimming instructor would take Jake and give him instructions on how to swim. Jake listened as the instructor said, "I'm not going to teach you to swim. I cannot teach you to swim. What I'm going to do is, I'm going to give you information and then I'm going to leave. I'm not even going to take you into the water. I'm not one of these people who go and hold you up, see, and then you think you're swimming. No, I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to talk to you about the nature of the water, and if you learn enough about the nature of the water, eventually you will swim. So each week I'm going to tell you something about the nature of the water."
During the first lesson, he explained, "Water has a certain density. You will find, if you spend some time in the shallow end, and you take your hand and you go like this, and you hit the water, that it stops. That's density. Density is only a word, but if you do what I just told you, you will experience density. You will find that if you put your hands in and push the water, that density will actually cause your body to move forward."
Then the instructor left.
The next week he said, "All right. Now I want to teach you about buoyancy. Buoyancy also is only a word, but if you spend some time in the shallow end, and if you sit there with your knees on the bottom and the water up to your shoulders, and wait, you will suddenly have the experience of buoyancy. You will feel what buoyancy is. It is also displacement. If you take a breath of air you'll find the bigger you get the more water you displace. But these are just ideas and I'm only telling you ideas and things. But if you actually get in the water and you do this, you'll have the experience of what I'm talking about."
Every week the instructor would give Jake one or two things for him to practice. Jake listened and took notes, and he had a lot of books on swimming, but he did not find time to actually get into the water and practice. But he faithfully went to every class.
Harry, on the other hand, would always see Jake after the lesson, at the snack bar, and Harry would ask, "What did the instructor talk about?"
Jake would say, "We talked about density and here's what he suggested we do. We should go out and take our hands and go like this - and then we talked about buoyancy and he suggested we get down and lift our legs up and take a deep breath - later it was talk about push in and breath in , and later it was push out, and breath out, and see the difference - and so on."
Every night, after their conversation, Harry, when it was dark and cold, would climb over the fence and go down to the shallow end of the pool and you could see him doing these strange things that Jake had told him about. He would do it for quite a long time, until he really had the experience.
So it did happen that after several weeks of this they both
went down to the shore. And of course they were both there when the storm came, as everyone expected it might. They were together in the same house and put battens on all the windows and then they went to sleep.
Suddenly, in the middle of the night they heard the storm starting to really pound on the house. They got up to look out the window and saw that the footings were starting to go. The house was starting to collapse and in the distance they saw a rowboat coming.
People were yelling, "Jump! Jump! The house is going to collapse. You gotta get out of there!"
So Jake, who knew all about swimming thought, "This is no problem. I know a lot about swimming." And you could hear him say, "Buoyancy! Buoyancy! Thrust! Thrust!"
As he hit the water you could still hear him say, "Buoyancy! Buoyancy! Thrust! Thrust!"
And you could hear him say that until he drowned.
Harry, who was also in trouble, said to himself, "Oh yeah, I practiced that. If I take in a lot of air I'll float...and if I push the water like this...," and he hit the water with his mouth full of air and he sank down. Tlien he waited for that feeling of buoyancy.
All of a sudden he started to lift. He came up and his head popped out. Then he pushed and he pushed and pretty soon someone grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him into the boat.
His rescuer said, "Thank God you could swim!"
And Charlie got down and thanked God he could swim.
Give yourself a task until we meet again. It can be a task that we have had or one that you make up for yourself, as long as it is a task that has to do with the Work and has a spiritual aim.