My first summer job as a teenager was as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA. I was in charge of the Beginners class, which ranged from four-year-olds in pint-sized leotards to junior high girls who had watched the Summer Olympics and been inspired by the likes of Shannon Miller and Kerri Strug.
Invariably the girls were enamored with the tumbling mats and the uneven bars. They loved somersaulting and cartwheeling to their hearts’ content, and they delighted in swinging on the bars. But there was a consistent nemesis for these budding gymnasts: the balance beam.
I couldn’t blame them. Here they were supposed to walk on a four-inch slab of wood four feet off the ground—and most of their heads didn’t even reach the top of the beam! But the fact remained: if they were going to pass the class and advance to the next level, they’d have to make it from one end of the beam to the other. All by themselves.
I’ll never forget the five-year-old twins in my class: tow-headed girls named Zoe and Chloe. Chloe had successfully completed each requisite for the class and had her certificate proudly in hand, marking her promotion to Advanced Beginners. But her blue eyes got big when a realization struck: her sister hadn’t walked the beam yet.
My progression for teaching this particular skill went like this: first, I’d have the girls walk on a line on the floor to show them that four inches was wider than they thought. Then when each girl got up on the beam, I’d keep pace alongside her, holding her hand each step of the way. When I was confident the gymnast was ready, I’d send her on her first solo attempt.
Zoe had the skills to conquer the balance beam, and she knew exactly what she needed to do. But she was facing an obstacle more daunting than the four-foot apparatus in front of her: a mental one. As soon as I’d let go of her hand, she’d look at the ground below, and all she could think about was how far she had to fall. But here’s the thing about walking four feet above the ground: if you want to make it to your destination, you have to keep your eyes up. Otherwise you’ll lose balance, perspective. And that’s when you’re destined to fall.
Reading the account of David’s affair with Bathsheba is a bit like watching those Olympic gymnasts on the balance beam. You hold your breath, knowing a misstep could result in the catastrophic loss of everything they’d worked so hard to achieve.
Perhaps the worst part about David’s story is how oblivious he was to his fall at first. Despite his status as a man after God’s own heart, he didn’t confess straight away—not after Bathsheba turned up pregnant, not after he received word that Uriah had been killed on the front lines of battle. It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan confronted him, boldly calling him on his sin (2 Samuel 12), that he finally broke down and repented.
His heartbreaking cry for mercy is recorded in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
As humans we have a tendency to embrace a cheap imitation of grace, interpreting it as an excuse to brush off sin or downplay its consequences. But Scripture presents a clear pattern: repentance and godly sorrow first, then mercy.
On the last day of the gymnastics class, I looked at Zoe. “Okay, kiddo,” I said. “Today is your day.”
She got onto the beam, her little knees knocking. Then, instead of standing beside her, I went to the far end of the balance beam. “Keep your head up,” I told her. “Just look at me.” Step by step she inched forward, her eyes never leaving mine.
There are times we need friends who will walk beside us and urge us along. But there are other times we need a coach who will boldly tell us to lift our eyes off the ground so we can walk the straight and narrow. Sometimes the most grace-invoking thing a friend can do is confront us.
In this precarious walk called life, we all need a Nathan.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.