Do you remember the monkey bars at the playground? I do... and it makes my arms hurt just thinking about the time I spent dangling from the metal bars of the jungle gym. My playground equipment of choice was always the swings, never the monkey bars. I attribute that choice to a lack of upper body strength. When in doubt, blame genetics. My legs, on the other hand, were strong, despite being even then rather small. I remember pumping my legs in fluid motions while rocking my body weight in perfectly synchronized timing. I would soar up into the air and cast my gaze straight up into the blue sky. I remember the sound of the heavy chains pinging against each other as the tension in their links released upon my descent. When my legs became tired and fatigued I would dismount and send myself leaping from my swing, sticking the landing on the wood chip covered earth.
The swings were my happy place on the playground. The monkey bars were my nemesis. As fate would have it, the monkey bars were a favorite among my peers. An integral aspect of the daily recess "fun" was always a lengthy visit to the monkey bars. I obliged my elementary school friends and engaged in the muscle fatiguing exercise of hanging from the overhead bars. As if hanging by my weak little arms weren't enough of a challenge, my peers would engage in the fun-filled antic of tickling the dangler. With pokes and playful jabs they made the hand-over-hand journey to the other side of the contraption a near impossibility. As my knuckles would turn red and my palms sweaty my will to hold on would deteriorate. Without shame I would let go of the metal bars, fall to the ground below and wait on the sidelines for the rest of the group to tire of monkey bars and head for the swings.
In all of my elementary school years I never did discover a love for monkey bars. When I grew up and grew out of recess I was relieved to be free from the obligation to engage in what amounted to torture to me. So imagine my surprise when, as an adult, God brought me to a new playground and invited me to join Him on the monkey bars.
Of course my immediate response was, "No thank you. I'll go for the swings." But God had another sort of "fun" in mind and it included monkey bars, endurance and hanging on for dear life. Instead of the playful fun of tickling I would be enduring trials. Instead of white knuckles and sweaty palms I'd have to contend with depression and hopelessness. I asked God if we could just stick to the traditional game of monkey bars, the one I knew as a child. Suddenly the jungle gym torture of my youth looked amazingly appealing.
Six years have passed and God hasn't tired of the monkey bars. I keep waiting for Him to go to the swings or at least the slide, but no. He really loves the monkey bars. And since I really love Him you can guess where I've been hanging out for the past six years. The monkey bars.
Countless times throughout my years on these bars I've tried to hold on tight and not fall down while the trials of life have taunted and teased me, tempting my hands to let go. Below I see the fate that awaits and it is more perilous than a bed of splintered wood. If I let go of the bars I will fall away from God. As challenging as it is to keep my grip secure I know that the alternative is far worse. The landing would be painful and bruises would be a sure result. So I keep holding on.
In all of this dangling I've had so much time to think. Sometimes I think about my disdain for the monkey bars. Sometimes I contemplate a way to compel God to move onto the swings. And other times I think about how much my muscles have grown. When my heart is right and my focus is on who I'm hanging out with on the monkey bars I don't even notice the fatigue and pain radiating throughout my body. All I think about is how wonderful it is to be with God - even if it is on the monkey bars.
The greatest challenge of the monkey bars is not the physical holding on, but the spiritual concentration on who is with me on the playground. When I look to my circumstances, my knuckles and my fatiguing body I am sure to lose my grip. But if I can look to the wonderful Friend I have in Jesus who is there with me I can hang on. By looking to Jesus I am filled with the endurance of His Spirit to stay with God as long as He desires to dangle from the monkey bars. By surrendering my plans for the swings and choosing to be present with Christ in the moment I may even find that the monkey bars aren't so bad after all.