A story has long been circulated that has been attributed to several sources including Aesop and his fables. It goes something like this:
A young girl was trudging along a mountain path trying to reach her grandmother’s house. It was bitter cold, and the wind cut like a knife. When she was within sight of her destination, she heard a rustle at her feet.
Looking down, she saw a snake. Before she could move, the snake spoke to her. He said, “I am about to die. It is too cold for me up here, and I am freezing. There is no food in these mountains and I am starving. Please put me under your coat and take me with you.”
“No,” replied the girl. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me, and your bite is poisonous.” “No, no,” said the snake. “If you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently.”
The little girl sat down on a rock for a moment to rest and to think things over. She looked at the beautiful markings on the snake and had to admit that it was the most beautiful snake she had ever seen. Suddenly she said, “I believe you. I will save you. All living things deserve to be treated with kindness.”
The little girl reached over, put the snake gently under her coat and proceeded toward her grandmother’s house. Within a moment, she felt a sharp pain in her side. The snake had bitten her.
“How could you do this to me?” she cried. “You promised that you would not bite me, and I trusted you!”
“You knew what I was when you picked me up,” hissed the snake as he slithered away.
Every day we live, there are choices to be made. Each choice we make today will determine the direction and the quality of our tomorrows—both in this life and the life to come. As an educator and as a parent, I have grieved to watch young people suffer the consequences of unfortunate choices.
I am reminded of a short filmstrip that I saw as a teenager. It depicted two deer fawns playing at night on a snow-covered rural road. In the distance could be seen a pair of automobile headlights headed in their direction. Their mother, standing on a knoll watching them, sounded an alarm that went unheeded. The Next thing we know, one of the fawns is lying dead on the highway.
A couple of years go by and we see the same scenario unfold again. Only this time, there is a young buck standing on the knoll overlooking that same stretch of highway observing two fawns playing on the frosty, snow covered road. Headlights can be seen in the distance. The buck on the knoll is the survivor of the incident we have just observed. The question is asked, “What can he say and how can he say it so they will believe him?”
Many young people, and I dare say, some people who are not so young, look at older people as being out of touch—what can old people know? What they fail to understand is that we have been where they are; they, on the other hand, have not been where we are. Although we do not claim to have all the answers, experience is something with which to be reckoned.
“Know this, that every man is free To choose his life and what he’ll be, For this eternal truth is given, That God will force no man to heaven. He’ll call, persuade, direct aright, Bless with wisdom, love and light, In marvelous ways be good and kind, But never force the Human mind.”
Free will is not the liberty to do whatever one likes, but the power of doing whatever one sees ought to be done, even in the face of otherwise overwhelming impulse. There lies freedom, indeed. There is an election going on all the time…the Lord votes for us and Satan votes against us, and we must cast the deciding vote. Knowing what that old serpent really is, will we be persuaded to pick him up or choose to pass him by?