An American naturalist was once walking along the seashore looking for interesting specimens of sea life. His attention was attracted to a large, strange-looking object lying ahead of him out a little way in the water. Upon examination he found that it was an immense bird, an American eagle, with a large steel trap snapped onto one foot. Three hundred miles away, on a rugged mountain slope, this great American eagle, the symbol of freedom, the emblem of power and courage, had soared down out of the sky to pick up an enticing piece of bait. In the process of getting the bait, the eagle had put his foot into the jaws of a vicious steel trap. Then the noble bird had struggled with all his might. He had jerked and pulled and fought until he had finally broken the chain and had flown away with the trap to which a part of the chain was still attached.
The eagle had regained enough of his freedom to fly 300 miles away. But he was still fatally handicapped. He must continue to endure the torment of the trap’s steel jaws relentlessly biting into his leg. In addition to the constant pain, he was now unable to maintain the old-time association with his companions. He was also severely handicapped in obtaining his food and maintaining his spirit. After weeks of suffering and exhaustion, this great eagle, worn out by struggle, famished by hunger, sickened by loneliness, and tortured by despair, had fallen into the margin of the sea to die, with the trap still biting into his broken, festering foot.
In the experience of the eagle can be seen a close parallel to human life. That is: many thousands of people are living a tortured existence comparable to the eagle with the trap on his foot. Attached to thousands of individuals is some galling, oppressive handicap which is sapping their energy, exhausting their mental and spiritual resources, and depleting their ability to live happy, productive lives. They are compelled to carry each newly acquired torment with them wherever they go until eventually, exhausted and defeated, they give up the struggle and fall into some part of the sea of discouragement, failure, and death. Many people go to their graves with their tortures and sins still relentlessly biting into their souls.
Of course there are many different kinds of traps that wear out the lives, wipe out the courage, exhaust the hope, and destroy the happiness of men and women. I recently attended a funeral for a friend of mine who died at age 58 with lung cancer. He had been trapped by nicotine. This man had once been a faithful member of the Church. And then he had been attracted by some cigarette bait, the danger of which did not seem to him very serious at first. But once established, the nicotine habit kept calling for the amount to be increased. After a few years he had become a chain smoker. As the amount of nicotine grew larger, my friend’s taste bud became impaired. As his appetite deteriorated, his work load had to be cut to correspond to his decreased vigor. Soon he wasn’t feeling very well. Over a period of months his family physician didn’t seem to be able to help much, and he was finally sent to a specialized medical clinic in San Diego. They told him that he must quit smoking immediately and get back to regular vigorous work in an attempt to recover his appetite and normal body functions. But he couldn’t get rid of nicotine’s trap that had fastened itself to him.
If we could look into the lives of many of the people living in this great free land of America, of which the eagle is the emblem, we would find that many are dragging toward their graves the galling, wearisome traps of alcohol, immorality, ignorance, and disobedience to God. These dangerous traps are usually concealed under some attractive bait to draw the attention of the intended victim. But when they are touched off by being stepped on, they snap shut on whoever puts himself in their range.
One good way to catch a mouse is to put a little cheese on the tongue of the trap. The mouse will be very anxious to get the cheese, but if he gets the cheese he must also take the trap.
The dictionary says that a trap is a device set to capture, defeat, confound, or ensnare. Think how many people are caught in this trap of mediocrity. In earlier days every man was his own master. The philosophy of going the second mile, of doing more than we were paid for, was popular. Now a well-meaning government sets out the snares of unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and paid vacations. We have a certain kind of tenure where we cannot be fired, either for our sloth or disloyalty. The prizes for excellence have been done away with and the government puts the cheese on the trap labeled maximum pay for minimum effort. In some cases it also gives out a near maximum pay for no effort at all.
Human activities of which we formerly would have been ashamed are now perfectly honorable, and we satisfy our consciences by merely saying, “Everyone’s doing it.” Different groups are trying to outdo each other in getting the most from the government while giving the least. So many people have lost the spirit of old-time excellence, and instead of maintaining the vigorous, enthusiastic superiority, we settle down to the low level of average.
Most people accept average as being a respectable objective. However, the dictionary says that average is halfway between something and nothing. When one is average he is mediocre, which means to be in the middle. When he is average he is as close to the bottom as he is to the top. He may have in his program as much of failure as he does of success. If one who is average desires to give himself a compliment, he might either say that he is the best of the worst or he is the worst of the best.
No matter what failure or sin he may want to participate in, he may find ample grounds for saying, “Everybody’s doing it.” Our great crime waves are setting millions of traps. We might say to ourselves that everybody steals from his employer, so why shouldn’t we? Millions of people break the Ten Commandments, so why shouldn’t we? There are millions who lie and steal and cheat. In marriages there are about as many miserable failures as there are outstanding successes. So we pick out our favorite sin and then justify ourselves by saying, “I’m no worse than the average.”
Recently a man was discussing his problems with a marriage counselor. He had about every problem of immorality, alcoholism, nicotine addiction, self-induced mental illness, and unemployment. But he justified himself by saying, “Everyone has his little problems.” But this man had traps, not only on his feet, but on his heart, his personality, and his ambition.
We sometimes think that it is just too difficult to live the religion of Christ and be honest, faithful, and hardworking with lives filled with excellence. We sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that it is more fun to be immoral, lazy, and live on some kind of government or community handout. Everyone ought to be a taxpayer and pay his own share of the nation’s upkeep, but we have our foot in the trap of our own government support. We also carry the additional burden of a large government organization, hired at our expense, to pay us back our own money. Think what would happen if we all took our feet out of the traps and gave ourselves the great power and ambition of free, industrious, self-supporting, and self-sustaining citizenship.
The great American eagle is a symbol of power, courage, intelligence, and responsibility. With these qualities of freedom and opportunity he becomes an inspiring symbol for us to follow. But with a heavy steel trap snapped onto his festering, broken foot, he soon has the heart taken out of him and may become a vegetable likely to die of discouragement.
I would like to paint for consideration three word pictures that may be suitable to hang on the walls of our minds. The first is the picture of a beautiful American eagle, the symbol of power and courage, the emblem of freedom, with a vicious steel trap dangling from his broken, swollen, festering leg.
The second is a picture of a great human being who has allowed himself to be trapped by sin, one who has been pitted and pocked by the evil which he himself has initiated. The picture may show him to be unfaithful, disobedient to God, and poisoned in his principles. He is tortured by guilt, worn out by discouragement and despair, and he drags himself toward eternity with an accumulation of Satan’s traps still punishing his fretful, fearful soul.
The third picture is one of ourselves. Each of us is a child of God, formed in God’s image and endowed with his attributes, heir to his kingdom, with an understanding of our own eternal potentialities. There is everything in knowing our origin and destiny and in constantly reaffirming them in our lives. We are the offspring of divinity. We have inherited the creator’s wisdom and power. We should cling to our inheritance. We should think of ourselves as children of omnipotence. We should never let the thought escape us, even for a moment. We should keep our feet out of the traps, and we should never let evil destroy this inspiring picture of ourselves.