I’m assuming we have all heard some version of the following story. Here is a recap, then we will dial it up a notch.
The story is told about a stage coach company was hiring teamsters to drive its stage coaches through a mountainous area. The local office manager had advertised for the position and people began to apply for the job. As they were interviewed, the boss asked each applicant, “How close can you drive the team to the edge of the cliff as you round the mountain.” The first fellow replied that he was skilled enough that he could drive the stage coach within three feet of the edge of the cliff. The boss thanked him for his time and called in the next applicant.
In the course of the interview, the boss asked the next man the same question. He replied that he could drive the team and coach within one foot of the edge of the cliff. He likewise was thanked for his time and the next applicant was called in. The boss asked this fellow the same question. He replied, “I would drive the coach as far from the edge of the cliff as I possibly could.”
He got the job! (link)
I’ve always liked that story as an example of staying away from dangerous situations. It is usually followed by valid teachings such as, “You will never become an alcoholic if you never take that first drink,” etc. Wise counsel, and an effective enough story that I’ve always remembered it and thought about it from time to time.
We were talking about his very thing the other day in Teachers quorum, and Bro. Lee brought up a video he had seen that I think is a terrific extension to this time-worn story.
You’ve all seen video and images of mountain goats climbing in unbelievably difficult terrain. Examples:
As they navigate in their unique geography, there is often someone there watching them: Eagles.
It turns out that an eagle enjoys a tasty lamb or goat dinner (don’t we all?), but a mountain goat is just too cumbersome for an eagle to pick up and carry away. The solution?
The eagle patiently watches and waits – from a distance – and when they see that a goat has gotten himself into a particularly precarious situation, or is near the edge of a cliff, the eagle will swoop down and grab the goat and simply pull him off the edge of the cliff, where it falls to its death. Easy-peasy.
On the ground below, the eagle will have its feast without having to do very much heavy lifting at all.
Those eagles are clever – the goats, not so much. I’ve attached a couple video links at the bottom if you wanna see – it is graphic.)
The idea of driving close to the edge of a cliff – spiritually speaking – is of legitimate concern. When we flirt with temptation and sin we can usually find it. It does make sense for us to stay as far away from the edge of that cliff as possible. Paul went as far as teaching that we should even abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thess 5:12)
Yet, we do not go about our days unnoticed. The adversary is real, and he is aware of us. Much as the eagles await an errant goat, he is waiting for us to get ourselves into a precarious situation, or to wander too close to the edge. At that point something as simple a a little nudge from him or his minions could be enough to send us plummeting – from which we may never recover.
I think back to times in my life where I danced along a dangerous cliff – all the while reassuring myself that I – I alone – was in complete control, and could step back whenever I decided. What an idiot!
What defines “living’ on the edge?” I don’t need to define that. If I’m honest with myself, I know exactly what it means for me, and you probably do, too. So, there’s really no need to make a list of things that could put us in danger. We don’t blindly walk those paths.
Elder James E. Faust shared a similar concept in a different manner that I think adds another level to the discussion:
“When I was a young man, my friends and I went to an amusement park, where we rode the flying saucer. It was shaped something like an upside-down plate that went round and round. Most of us tried to get to the middle so we wouldn’t be thrown off by the centrifugal force as the saucer picked up speed. Sometimes those on the edge would grab a friend who was closer to the middle, but that would pull them both completely off the saucer. I soon recognized that the centrifugal force was far less powerful in the middle. I was quite safe in the center even though the saucer was still spinning. But it was risky when someone on the fringe latched on to me. I learned that safety comes from staying close to the center.” (link)
Most of us have friends or family members who we thought were on solid ground, only to see them slip away onto other paths. Maybe from pressure from friends on the fringe, maybe from livin’ on the edge and losing themselves, or maybe just a gentle nudge from the father of lies.
The biggest mistake of all is thinking – even for a minute – that “it could never happen to me.”
“One of the great myths in life is when men think they are invincible. Too many think that they are men of steel, strong enough to withstand any temptation. They delude themselves into thinking, “It cannot happen to me.” Borrowing a thought from Bertrand Russell, “We are all like the turkey who wakes up Thanksgiving morning expecting lunch as usual. Things can go wrong at any time.” Brethren, it can happen to any of us at any time. So much of our course in life is influenced by forces we only partly perceive.” (Elder James E Faust.)
“O be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12).