Over the past few days I’ve found my thoughts turning often toward 13-year-old Gracie Johnson, the sole survivor of a freak Colorado rockslide that claimed the lives of her parents, sister, and two other relatives while hiking this past Monday in Buena Vista.
As a Colorado resident this tragedy may be hitting me especially hard, but you don’t need to be a local or even an outdoorsman to be affected by this widely circulating story. The idea of the unthinkable happening and changing our lives in a moment may be a universal fear, and one most of us would prefer not to dwell on.
And, yet, young Gracie Johnson is left to contend with that very reality.
There is another angle, too, emerging from this account, a theme of a father demonstrating one final act of love for his daughter. According to Gracie, upon seeing the boulders falling from the cliff face above, her father jumped on her at the last instant to shield her from the impact. It was a decision that Chaffee County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tolsma says made him a “true hero” and served as a defining statement of the strength and selflessness required by fatherhood.
All of us, of course, would probably report that in facing a similar situation – if it ever came to that – our final thoughts would be for the shepherd-like protection of our own child. And that’s just my point: it’s easy to say we could brush aside the realization of our own impending mortality to save the life of another, knowing we’ll probably never have to deliver on it. But for Gracie’s dad, a high school football coach, there was no time for a passing thought about his own fate; there was only time to act on an instinctual love that gave his daughter a chance for survival.
One lesson here may be easy to spot for those believers among us, but it’s worth revisiting.
The Apostle Paul summed up perfectly what our love for others should look like, and he doesn’t make allowances for considering our own perils:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
It’s a passage any Christian can give mental ascent to, but one of the hardest to live out. And it’s a principle one Colorado father powerfully demonstrated.
Is your love for others operating at the instinctual level? Is it second nature for you to address your loved ones’ needs – even down to their safety – despite troubles of our own? We can pray that God’s mercies might spare us from demonstrating our love in such extreme circumstances. But, let’s allow His Holy Spirit to shape our hearts so we’re willing to do just that.