A friend reminded me of a fable about a hapless donkey that somehow fell into a well. The water in the well wasn’t very deep, but it had no way of getting out. When townspeople discovered the animal’s plight, they tried to devise a solution to save it, but it seemed impossible.
Finally the citizens determined that if they couldn’t extricate the donkey from the well, the humane thing would be to bury it alive rather than let it die a slow death of starvation. So they began shoveling dirt into the well. The donkey, however, had different ideas. It would shake off each shovelful of dirt and let it fall to the well’s floor.
As the dirt falling from above began to accumulate, the animal realized it could step up onto the dirt pile and raise itself higher in the well. Eventually, the dirt had filled most of the well and the donkey, cleverly perched on top of it, simply stepped out of the well to safety.
The principle from this fable is one we could apply to many problems we encounter on our journey through life. The donkey could have decided he was doomed and accepted his fate. He could have given up and become buried under the dirt. Instead, he kept shaking it off and rising up under the challenge until he had overcome his dilemma and stepped out into freedom.
Many times our difficulties threaten to bury us as well. Problem piles upon problem, and we’re tempted to succumb to despair. However, if we remember the lesson of the donkey, we can regard these challenges as stepping stones rather than tombstones.
It may seem like a puzzling reality, but we learn much more from difficulties and failure than we do from prosperity and success. For instance, financial problems often are the result of poor decision-making. Impulsive purchases, spending more than we’re earning, presuming upon God by accumulating debt. Or our priorities might be out of whack, causing harm to relationships and preventing us from accomplishing cherished goals.
At times the consequences of self-inflicted woes threaten to cover us up. We can choose to let that happen. Or we can learn from bad experiences, pursue ways of properly resolving them, and use this “dirt” to climb above our circumstances.
Followers of Christ, however, differ from the donkey in one crucial way. The donkey worked to resolve its problem solely through its own initiative. There was no one to help him. When our best efforts prove insufficient for the challenges we face, we have the assurance that we don’t have to confront them alone.
The apostle Paul, who dealt with multiple crises during his life as a disciple of Jesus, observed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). In fact, Jesus Himself stated that if our desire is to do things of eternal value, we can’t accomplish them on our own strength. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Toward the close of his letter to the church in the city of Ephesus, Paul gave this admonition: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). In our culture, many of us have learned the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality. However, unlike the donkey who was clever enough to use the dirt as a means for achieving freedom from the well, the Lord wants us to rely on Him whenever we confront perplexing dilemmas.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond by doing whatever seems appropriate, but often even our best efforts aren’t enough. For this reason the apostle exhorted another group of believers to “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:10-11).
When we’ve inadvertently fallen into some “well,” we don’t have to fall victim to the “dirt” cascading down on us. Instead, we can trust in the wisdom, guidance and power of God to lift us back to solid ground.
- - - -
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.