I think I finally understand the meaning of “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” FDR may have been coming at it from a different set of circumstances and perspective (global perspective vs. just-me, myself, and I perspective)… But I really get it. And a man in a red coat on a woodsy path, along with a hugely oversized raccoon helped me “get it”, and speak it and do it…”speak softly and carry a big stick”, that is!
You see, I went for a long walk the other morning. Was beautiful. I wanted to see the sunrise in the morning, but it was cloudy at 7 a.m., so I went down by the river where I often go. And I walked, and I sang, (didn’t think any humans were there to hear me 🙂 ) , and I prayed, and thought, and took photos.
I walked a long time, and went further down the path than I had ever gone. On the way, I questioned my wisdom a few times because it’s deer season in the south, and there were gunshots coming from across the river…close gunshots…and I was easily heard in the rustling of the leaves with each step. But am guessing I was not so easily seen with a gray sweatshirt on. Red would’ve been a much better choice I decided.
And then I heard a crazy, crazy animal scream at the top of a ravine, and my first thought was, “I wonder if there are mountain lions or cougars in these hills”. And then there was the moment when I got to what appeared to be the end of a path…it opened up onto a hill …but there was a house there, with abandoned vehicles, sheds, and a very big and quite concerned dog with a low and loud bark. He made it obvious that I was an intruder. I kind of decided that although there was another marker pointing to a path on the hill top (Jolly Mountain), that it might be a wise thing to turn around. And after taking a few shots (photos, ha!) in the clearing, I turned around.
So, exaggerated or not, these present and possible dangers probably made my heart rate go up quite a bit more than the walk itself. (My Fitbit can attest to that!) But those first few seeming threats were NOTHING compared to what would meet me on the trail on the walk back.
I was walking along and lost in thought when I saw a man about 1/8 mile away. He was wearing a red down coat and was standing still, looking my way, and staring. Self-defense tactics that my husband had shared with me in his undercover narc days surfaced a bit in my brain, and soon gave way to confusion as the man in the red coat started yelling something at me. So I stopped the rustling of the leaves and listened. And finally, I heard…and then,…I saw.
On the path between he and I was a HUGE, I mean HUGE raccoon. And it was daytime, and that concerned me a bit. Nocturnal animals should be asleep by now. It concerned the man in the red down jacket too. “I think he’s rabid…be really careful!!!” So, the man in the red down jacket was no threat, but there might be a much scarier threat lurking. (My husband’s self-defense tips just wouldn’t apply to defend against a crazed raccoon…)
So…Hmm. Okay. I kind of froze. Not out of total fear, but I needed a bit of think time. And a stick. I needed a stick. (The man yelled that, too. “YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET A STICK!!” he yells…not softly at all.) And he walked on further, and then stopped to see if I’d make it by this huge raccoon in the middle of the path. (He was kind to wait, but to be honest, I kind of wanted this man who I originally thought was a threat, to do the chivalrous and self-sacrificing act of actually coming to rescue me and ensure that I was safe…,ha. And that’s hard to admit for me and my seemingly-independent self. )
So…I walked softly, prayed softly, (but heartily), and got a big stick.
…and I walked on toward the raccoon and when I got a little bit close, I proceeded to take the ‘high road’, and as the raccoon went toward the river, I walked way up off the beaten path on higher ground. Thankfully, as I walked on by, the raccoon disappeared into a hole just beyond the lower side of the path. The man in the red coat walked on, and I breathed a prayer of thanks,…quickened my pace,… and continued to hold on to that stick, and decided to ‘walk with purpose’ rather than linger and take photos.
Sometimes real threats are all around us and we don’t even know it. We can be surrounded by things that might or might not be dangerous. We can be aware of them, or totally oblivious to them.In this oft-crazy world, it seems as though it’s getting easier and easier to live in fear. But fear often lives in the what might happen. Faith walks in the now. I’m thinking faith walks hand in hand with fear sometimes. I mean, my heart was pumping, and what if’s were popping up in my head. I love the Elisabeth Elliot quote that says, “Sometimes fear does not subside and I must choose to do it afraid.” Lots of times for this girl. Walking past this seeming threat of a possibly-rabid raccoon is way low on the list of things I’ve needed to “choose to do afraid”. But it really reminded me of the toll that fear can take on us.
I’m thinking it’s a good thing to be equipped to battle our fears…with tenacity, wisdom, smarts, and …sticks…tools to help us guard our hearts and minds and bodies. Sometimes we can guard against very present dangers. We wear seat belts. We take vitamins. We go inside during lightning storms and in the basement in the threat of a tornado. We take preventive measures to protect our children, adult or not. Caution is a good thing…as long as we continue living and stretching and moving forward.
Fear can bring on a state of paralysis where we’re so afraid to move to the left or the right that we never take a step at all. I’ve been there. (Even on my walk I had a ‘moment’!) It seems to me that the paralysis sets in when I feel as though I’m a bit at the mercy of a situation…or a rabid raccoon or barking dog or man on a path yelling at me. But thankfully, we can arm ourselves with more than sticks.
The Bible talks about the battles we face being against principalities, against things that are forces that can’t be seen. Sticks won’t do much in this battle. But the “armor” that is spoken of in Ephesians 6 can battle those unseen things. The ‘belt of truth’ (focusing on what is True rather than the feelings or exaggerated ‘what ifs ‘ , etc.) , ‘the breastplate of righteousness’ (walking with integrity, making good choices protects people in countless ways….) , the ‘shoes of the gospel of peace’ (God’s grace changes everything…everything, and allows us to walk in places with a new perspective) , ‘the shield of faith’ (He can do what I can’t, that’s for sure. I can focus on fear, or faith…faith shield and protects my heart), ‘the helmet of salvation’ (Grace protects my mind and changes the way I think..), and ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (The unseen can only be battled with the Unseen…can do what I can’t) …these all combat and protect the heart and mind in a world where there’s way more to lose than the physical.
I don’t know what real or present dangers you are facing. These tiny ‘threats’ on my walk were nothing compared to some of the battles we all face with real and legitimate fears for ourselves, for friends, for spouses and parents and children. But I think there’s wisdom to really prepare our hearts, minds and bodies to be aware of what’s around us. It’s a good, good thing to control what we can, and trust God with what we can’t. I thought back to my walk and how the whole time was spent in solitude….with no humans in sight at all, until the man in the red coat. It struck me that if I had been taking photos and not paying attention, this scenario could’ve turned out quite differently, because that raccoon was there, and I could’ve truly been oblivious to its presence until I was right next to it. But thanks to the warning of the loud man in the red coat, well, the danger was heeded off. I wonder how many things we’re guarded from daily, hourly, momentarily that we’re not even aware of. Yes, it’s good to control what we can, but I’m so thankful that there’s often much protection than we’ll ever be aware of.
So, thought for the day? Yes, “speak softly and carry a big stick…” is good advice. For leaders of countries for sure…*sigh*, and for me. Navigating through volatile and heated situations and dangers is cause for self-control and wisdom and respect….and then, only if necessary, muscles and sticks to guard, guard, guard, protect, protect, protect, but not aggressively trample and destroy. In the woods, in homes, work places and amongst nations, am thinking FDR knew what he was talking about.
Just a few thoughts which surfaced on my LONG walk on a cold November morning.
Blessings to you and yours ~
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand….”