When I was about 4, my grandfather took me fishing. He had a secret fishing hole that was a backwater off Murder Creek in East Brewton. Remind me to tell you the story sometime of how Murder Creek got its name.
The pond was inaccessible by car. We had to park on the main highway and walk about a mile through swampy woods to get to the place.
The fishing hole was created when Murder Creek overflowed its banks, which happened on a regular basis every spring. Water would fill this low valley and stock it with bream, catfish, bass and snakes.
It was great fishing, unless you were 4.
For some reason my grandfather was determined that I would learn to fish. He loved it and wanted me to love it as well – a task, by the way, he was very successful in accomplishing.
At the time, however, I was 4. I was more distracted with climbing trees and avoiding snakes.
Without my knowledge, Grandpa caught a little bream and attached it to my pole.
“Jimmy,” he called out, “you better come catch this fish.”
I ran over and grabbed my cane pole and was literally electrified by the pull. I fought that little guy like it was Moby Dick. When I finally landed him, my grandfather carried on as if I had landed a championship bass.
From that moment on, I was hooked – no pun intended.
I have reflected on that moment many times across the years. I have since learned from my wife that this is a version of teaching called “hand over hand.”
In order to help a child learn to form letters, teachers will lay their hand over the student’s hand to help form letters, to help their students feel what it feels like to make the letters appear.
That’s what my grandfather did for me in fishing. He put the fish on the hook, and let me feel the pull.
There is an obvious application here for life. There are many people in this world who are trying to figure out how to live and to live in a meaningful manner. They are seeking depth, purpose and faith.
There are young people trying to understand their place in this world. There are senior adults who are trying to understand their new status as retirees, or as grandparents, and in some sad instances, as newly single adults.
There are other challenges, especially for people of faith.
How do we pray in a world dominated by cynicism? How do we remain faithful when faith is co-opted by politics? How do we live with the ideals of Jesus concerning nonviolence in a world consumed with violence? How do we bless the poor, as Jesus said, in world that continually condemns poverty as a curse?
Some of us may be able to help. Life teaches us many things and sometimes some of us figure things out. A little “hand over hand” instruction could help.
Take the fish, put it on the hook and let them pull it out. It could be the beginning of a lifelong journey.
It certainly worked for me.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).