Does the name Billy Coleman ring a bell? If you were in any of my fifth grade homeroom classes you are very familiar with the star of Wilson Rawl’s classic book, Where the Red Fern Grows. No school year ever ended without me pulling up a chair in front of an eager group of ten-year-olds, and reading about Billy’s Ozark Mountain coon hunting experiences, accompanied by his two beloved coon dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. It was, and still is, one of my absolute favorite stories. Because I loved it so much, I read it to my homeroom class year after year with fresh enthusiasm. That contagious enthusiasm caused “my kids” to beg me to keep reading even after the bell sounded.
There are a multitude of life lessons embedded in the story, but the best one for all of us adults might come from Billy’s grandfather. When teaching Billy the best way to get a coonskin needed to train his dogs, Grandpa said, “Find a good solid log close by and bore a hole down about six inches. Drop a bright shiny piece of tin down into the hole, and be sure it’s laying right on the bottom. Then take four horseshoe nails and drive them into the hole on a slant opposite each other. The ends of the nails will enter the hole about halfway between the top and the piece of tin. Leave an opening between the sharp points big enough for a coon to get his paw through.”
Billy could picture the raccoon reaching in and grabbing hold of the irresistible, shiny tin. His paw would naturally form a fat fist he couldn’t pull past the sharp nails while holding the tin. Billy saw how that might trap the raccoon, until he realized all the coon had to do was turn loose of the tin. Billy’s face fell thinking his grandfather was trying to trick him. But Grandpa quickly explained how he had discovered the idea for the trap. He said, “My mother had an old churn. It was one of those kind with a small hole in the lid for the dasher. When she would get through churning, she would take the dasher out to wash it. That crazy coon would climb up on top of the churn, poke his little front paw through the hole, and get a fistful of butter. The hole was small, and when he closed his paw, he couldn’t get it back out. All he had to do was open it, drop the butter, and he would be free, but do you think he would? No, sir. He would carry that churn lid all over the house, squalling and growling. Why, it took everyone in the house to free him. I’d have to wrap him up in a gunny sack or an old coat and pry his claws loose from the butter. Seeing this time after time is what gave me the idea for this trap. Once he reaches in and gets hold of that tin, he’s caught, because he will never open his paw.”
Satan’s loaded traps for us with shiny, irresistible, and individualized bait. He knows exactly what tempts us to keep our fists fat. He lures us with glitzy fame, prestigious power, endless entertainment, sensual pleasure, or emotional escape. He wants us to reach into his pit and become snagged forever. Satan knows human nature defaults to the “All for Self” setting. We fail to realize freedom comes easily for those of us who choose to simply let go. We spend days, months, and even years running through our lives squalling, growling, and complaining about things we only need to release. We pray for God’s deliverance, but all we see coming toward us is a gunny sack of circumstances. We fail to realize God is holding the sack, so we kick, punch, and thrash around until we loose all strength. Finally, we get quiet and still enough to relax – and we let go. That’s when the sack opens, and we see the face of Jesus peering down at us through our circumstances. We allow Him to reach in, pull us out, and wipe off the sweat of our own effort. We let Him bathe us in His grace, rinsing our hands of the temptations that have lost their luster. Our clean, open hands now receive the sterling, ever-lasting peace that was ours all along.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36