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  • Norman Steel

Thought For Today: The Horseshoe Nail

When our boys were young we took lots of camping holidays. These were generally very happy family times but not without their moments. I remember one occasion when we’d had a fairly long drive to get to our destination. Within minutes of our arrival, I was putting up the tents, preparing the evening meal and unpacking the car and trailer. Clare had had a long and tiring day in the passenger seat of the car and so was making sure that the camping chairs were still comfortable and I had given the boys (James 16, Matthew 14 and French Exchange student Martin (15) what at first glance should have been the fairly simple task of inflating the air mattresses. A task made easier by the acquisition of an electric pump that worked off the car battery. Being of Eastern European manufacture, this pump didn't have modern refinements, like a cigarette lighter adapter - it utilised crocodile clips. So with the car bonnet up for action and the pump puttering away, I went back to my tasks and the boys began a game of badminton. Jonathan (2½) thought this a good opportunity to help with the tidying up and he carefully placed all our plastic camp plates on the hot engine manifold. Within seconds they had begun to melt.

While I was retrieving this disaster, the airbed - untended and obviously feeling lonely - chose this moment to bring itself back to our notice and exploded with a loud bang, sending pigeons clattering out of the trees with frantic coos and chasing off all midges and mosquitoes for the rest of our stay. An interesting, if acrimonious, discussion followed along the lines of "whose airbed is it anyway?" and "just because I was supposed to be in charge, doesn't mean it's my fault." .... I will draw a veil of compassion over the rest of the scene in the interests of family harmony. At least our arrival had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the campers and we were greeted with warm smiles during the rest of our stay.

The whole problem could have been averted if.... Well, any number of things really. For example, if we didn't have the electric pump, if we didn't have to use it with the bonnet open, if Jonathan hadn't had access to plastic plates, if a more careful watch had been kept, if the air mattress could have been taught to spit out the tube when it was full…

So many times when things go wrong, or when they don't go exactly to plan, we tend to blame it on one event instead of seeing it as an accumulation of little things. (The old poem the horseshoe nail* illustrates this rather well) And it's just as true of human relationships. If you've ever tried to sort out a children's quarrel, you will know what I mean;

"who started this?"

"He did, he took my ball. "

"Only because yesterday she spoiled my game. "

"That was because he.... " You get the idea?

To break out of damaging relationships with other people requires one person to take the first step. To draw back from retaliation and to begin to think of forgiveness and reconciliation. For when we find it impossible to do this, it is our lives that continue to be eaten up in bitterness, it is our lives that can be destroyed even further. The message of Christ was one of peace and love, but we will never achieve this goal while we continue to tell people how they ought to behave. The only way it can work is if it starts first with 'me'.

(For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe a horse was lost. For the want of a horse a rider was lost. For the want of a rider a battle was lost, for the want of a battle a kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.))

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