Ecclesiastes 12:1 tells us to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” In the past six weeks, I have remembered the days of my Creator by reflecting on the early days of my faith and just how much of an impact certain people and faith communities had on my “long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson puts it — that is…
…my faith journey.
The ropeholder story is found in Mark 2:1-5 in the New Testament. Jesus is teaching in someone’s home. A paralyzed man learns Jesus is inside. He wants to talk to Him. Both the man’s condition and the house being packed with people prevent him from getting in through the door. There seems no way inside.
But to the paralyzed man’s surprise, his friends come to his aid and climb the roof of the house in which Jesus was visiting. They remove the roof tiles, and, using ropes tied to a mat, the men lower their friend through the space they had opened up so he can encounter Jesus. And the paralyzed man’s life is forever changed by the Savior.
My earliest spiritual ropeholders were my parents, who not only modeled the Christian faith but also believed and talked about Jesus. Many a Sunday night we read devotions from Little Conversations with God. A prayer of blessing over the food was said at every meal. Never skipped. If we accidentally forgot, we stopped eating and prayed. Our family attended church every week, usually a minute or two late…
…but we were there.
I am so thankful to these ropeholders for showing me the way to go in life and that following Jesus Christ is the only way. Other ropeholders include the countless Sunday School teachers, church choir directors, and camp counselors, who taught me about Jesus. From the Henningsgaard family, I learned the importance of making connections with church families outside of where we worshipped. How early Mrs. Henningsgaard must have risen to make the hundreds of Swedish meatballs she did for our hungry family when they had us to Sunday lunch.
Pastor Jim Schwartz and his wife Karen were other ropeholders. I learned from them that pastors and their spouses were not scary. They were approachable, nice, human. This young couple helped me, like the paralyzed man, get to God.
In the early ‘70s, my mom taught piano lessons after school to bring in extra income for my brothers’ braces and my piano lessons. Church youth choir practice was 4:45 p.m. on Wednesdays. We lived far enough away that I couldn’t walk to choir. The only way I could get there was if someone was kind enough to give me a ride.
Pastor Jim was that someone. He led a youth group after choir so every Wednesday, for several years, Pastor Jim willingly left his home early, roared up my parents’ driveway in his green Porsche. I’d hop in and away we’d go. I can still see his right hand, with a class ring on his ring finger, on the stick shift, as we made our way to church. He’d ask me questions about my school (“Fine”), how piano lessons were going (“Loved to play, hate to practice a half-hour every day”), and how I liked choir (Choir? You mean Social Hour? “Loved it”). I tried to retain something from his sermon the previous Sunday to talk to him about during the fifteen-minute drive.
Karen was a ropeholder too. Before Pastor Jim started driving me, Karen invited me up to their apartment. I looked around their modern apartment, so different from the French provincial and Duncan Phyfe in our home. Art made of dots and swirls. Modular furniture in metal, leather, green, white and orange. My mood ring and bell-bottoms fit in in that cool, California-kind-of-place. She was friendly, made actually talking to a pastor and his wife feel ordinary, a comfortable thing. Most of all, she seemed to want to know me; she thought a teenager might have an important thought.
I kept a church bulletin from August 11, 1974. It was my first participation in helping to put together a youth church service. The music of that era — what we call now call “New Age,” was reflected in the service. As youth, we were oblivious to our song choices. I look back now and see a brave ropeholder in Pastor Jim.
Ropeholding has two points of view. The ones holding the rope are trustworthy. They are secure that God, and strength from Him, will be enough to hold, and they are willing to risk a rope burn or two. In Pastor Jim’s case, I’m sure older church members raised an eyebrow or two or gave him a lecture afterwards about the service and the songs selected. But Pastor Jim never once buckled. From his point of view, he held the rope steady, secure, knowing he was getting the youth to God in the best way he knew how: By allowing them to be themselves on the way there, expressing their love to God at the stage of their faith development they were in at the time.
The other point of view of ropeholding is from the person on the mat. She is the one trusting she will be held, whether by way of being given a ride to choir every Wednesday throughout the church year, talking to and seeing a pastor as human, and trusting that self-expression by way of singing Neil Diamond songs in church is Sanctus. Kyrie. A beautiful noise.
How about you? Who held your mat? Who helped you get to God? Aletheia is the Greek word for “truth.” It means “to remember.” More than 200 times the Bible tells us to “remember.” Today, remember the Creator of your youth and thank Him. Speak the truth to one of your spiritual ropeholders. Remember those who modeled the Christian faith and helped you to a deeper faith journey with God — and tell them “thanks,” for they are people whom God put in your life to help you grow closer to Him. They are your new-life-in-Christ influencers.
And, as for you: Remember, you too, are a ropeholder — to the next generation. You are a carrier of faith. Don’t be afraid to use your voice, heart, hands and feet to do so. Ask God to give you the strength. He will. By your sacrifice, by your rope burns, others will get to Christ, too.