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 think I know what the old rail-splitter had in mind. Yesterday, I got a little bit of hangin’.

“Lord…let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:4

We were having Sunday lunch at the home of a fellow missionary family. It was after the meal, and I was in the kitchen while Denalyn and our friends, Paul and Debbie, were talking in the living room. Their three-year-old daughter Beth Ann was playing with our two-year-old Jenna in the front yard. All of a sudden Beth Ann rushed in with a look of panic on her face. “Jenna is in the pool!”

Paul was the first to arrive at the poolside. He went straight into the water. Denalyn was next to arrive. By the time I arrived, Paul had lifted her up out of the water to the extended hands of her mother. Jenna was simultaneously choking, crying, and coughing. She vomited a bellyful of water. I held her as she cried. Denalyn began to weep. I began to sweat.

For the rest of the day I couldn’t hold her enough, nor could we thank little Beth Ann enough (we took her out for ice cream). 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’.

The stool was kicked out from under my feet and the rope jerked around my neck just long enough to remind me of what really matters. It was a divine slap, a gracious knock on the head, a severe mercy. Because of it I came face to face with one of the underground’s slyest 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.”

He’d been on my trail for years and I never knew it. But it I know it now. I’ve come to recognize his tactics and detect his presence. And I’m doing my best to keep him out. His aim is deadly. 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.

Nor will he steal your home from you; he’ll do something far worse. He’ll paint it with a familiar coat of drabness.

He’ll replace evening gowns with bathrobes, nights on the town with evenings in the recliner, and romance with routine. He’ll scatter the dust of yesterday over the wedding pictures in the hallway until they become a memory of another couple in another time.

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 unnutured, and opportunities will go ignored. All because the poison of the ordinary has deadened your senses to the magic of the moment.

Before you know it, the little face that brought tears to your eyes in the delivery room has become—perish the thought—common. A common kid sitting in the back seat of your van as you whiz down the fast lane of life. Unless something changes, unless someone wakes you up, that common kid will become a common stranger.

A little bit of hangin’ might do us all a bit of good.

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.

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