Have you ever wondered where the
phrase at the end of your rope
came from? According to a late friend and former mentor of mine, the
phrase originated around the beginning of World War II. This friend had
been an instructor responsible for training soldiers in mountain
warfare/survival skills. One of the first lessons was to train the men
to harness themselves to a rope and repel down a sheer cliff. The
instructors stressed to the soldiers that they must pay strict
attention to how much line remained beneath them. Otherwise, an unaware
climber could travel too fast when they came to the end of his rope and
fall to his death.
To further illustrate the
importance of this lesson, instructors
would awaken the soldiers in the middle of the night, transport them to
the mountainside, and have them run the repelling drills in the dark.
One at a time, the instructors would bring a trainee to the cliff, have
them harness up, and send them down. What they did not tell the
soldiers was that unlike their repelling drills done in the daylight,
this rope was shortened so that it ended six or seven feet from the
At night, the soldiers could not
see even a few feet beneath them.
Fortunately, most of the men would come to a surprised stop as they
reached the end of their lines, and would typically cry out for help.
Then an instructor would tap the side of their boots, and tell them it
was safe to drop. But others who raced down the rope, would feel the
last of their rope slip through their harnesses and scream as they fell
the last few feet to the ground. You can bet that after this few
soldiers ever allowed themselves to come to the end of their ropes.
This simple phrase has become an
idiom for allowing the
circumstances of life to push us past the limit of our ability to cope.
Most people find themselves in this situation at some point in their
lives. It might be a debilitating illness, the loss of a loved one, or
even a financial disaster with no foreseeable remedy in sight. It is
the place in life where the last rays of hope are swallowed whole,
leaving nothing but utter darkness.
I love how inspirational fiction
often mirrors life. In the real
world, good people often make poor choices that lead to tragic
outcomes. The same is true of fiction. Bringing a story character to
the end of his rope is the cornerstone of most inspirational fiction we
write. But unlike real life, the author has the ability to show the big
picture, giving readers a perspective beyond what is possible when
facing the same kinds of real-life problems on their own.
Several years ago I had the
opportunity to visit with a friend from
church. I asked her about how she came to know our Lord, and I will
never forget her answer. An avid reader, she was always eyeing the
best-seller charts for the next new adventure to submerge herself in.
Around that time the Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins was beginning
to take off. It was the first Christian fiction title she had ever
Not having been raised in
church, she found herself closely
identifying with some of the characters who were themselves coming
face-to-face with the possibility that there really was a God and what
the horrors of rejecting His will for their lives might entail. Adding
to that, the concept of the world coming to an end caused a spiritual
crisis in her life. You could say that in a very real way, reading
those books brought her to the end of her rope.
She began questioning her values
and how she had been raising her
children. As a single mother, she realized it was up to her to find the
answers about God that she and her children needed. Before long, her
search for truth got her reading the Bible. A few weeks later, she
started attending a church and soon gave her life to Christ.
Jesus Himself often used
parables to illustrate the power of truth
through story. I like to think of these life-changing parables as the
very first examples of inspirational fiction. As with my friend who
came to Christ through reading the Left Behind series, peoples’ lives
are transformed by the novels they read.
This exciting truth supports the
sincere belief of many
inspirational novelists, that for them writing is a calling from God.
When you get down to it, an inspirational novelist’s function is not
much different from that of any pastor or evangelist. A preacher uses
stories to help bring the listener to a place of decision. Following
Jesus’ own example, the stories we write reverberate in the readers’
minds, hearts, and souls.
That’s it for this month. Until
we meet again, may God bless your
imagination with many new heart-pounding ways to bring your characters
to the end of their ropes, leading them to look upward for the help