Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Losing it in the new year


If you are in the cattle business, January means hauling hay. I buy my hay from a good friend who is big in the hay business. I hook up to my hay trailer and drive five miles to his barn and load up four big round bales at a time.

Once the bales are loaded, "To strap or not to strap?" is the question. When I first started hauling hay, I strapped down each load. But after a while, I wondered if it was necessary. After all, I wasn't going that far. I promised myself I would go real slow. Turns out I could save about two minutes on the front end not strapping down and two minutes on the back end as well. Four whole minutes! Who needs to strap down hay?

I made trip after trip and never had a problem. There is one very sharp turn I have to negotiate, however, and one afternoon I took the turn too fast and lost a bale. It laid there in the middle of the road, and I panicked. How was I going to get that bale back on the trailer? Thankfully, a friend and a passerby stopped, and together, we put the bale back on the trailer without too much trouble. I told myself I had learned my lesson and would never take the turn that fast again.

I must have made 20 more trips and never had a problem. One of life's great lessons, however, is just because you do not have a problem does not mean there is not the potential for a problem.

I was out of town for a few days, and my cows had run out of hay. I made my first run to the hay barn without incident and offloaded four big bales in all the right places. I had to hurry on my last run to make it to the barn before 5 and then to get my bales offloaded before dark.

I got loaded and headed down the road, back to my little place. I was listening to an engrossing podcast, not really paying attention to my speed. The sharp turn came up a little quicker than I expected, but I slowed down and made it with no problem. I thought…

Half a mile down the road, I glanced at my rearview mirror. My hay trailer sits low, and without hay, you can't tell it's back there. There was nothing in my rearview mirror. "That's odd," I thought and drove another 100 feet when it hit me: There is supposed to be hay back there. I checked my side mirrors and there, in the middle of the road, were four bales, fading in the distance.

Let me simply say my first thought was not "Blessed be the Lord." In fact, some very un-Baptist words came forth from my lips. I had to turn around, but pulling a 20-foot trailer makes that not so easy. I found a driveway, pulled in, backed out and returned to the scene of the disaster.

One bale was intact. The other three had exploded. The wrapping had come loose, and hay was everywhere. I had created my very own hay obstacle course. Then I calculated the cost of the hay on the highway and started feeling sick to my stomach. I don't have a tractor with a front-end loader; in fact, I don't have a tractor at all. How was I going to salvage this situation?

Then I remembered another friend who actually leases me my pasture. I knew he had a tractor with a front-end loader. I called him and when he asked, "How are you?" I told him the truth: I was in a mess. I shared I had dumped a whole load of hay all over the road and wondered if he could bring his tractor and help me.

It is not the easiest thing to ask someone for help. You dread the pause, which means they are thinking about whether you are worth their time. I have been on the receiving end of those pauses so many times it makes me reluctant to ask for help. But my friend did not hesitate. Right away, he said, "I'll be there in 20 minutes."

He made it there in 15 minutes. He loaded what he could onto my hay trailer and then pushed the rest over to the ditch. I would come back later and pick up what I could with a pitchfork. I thanked him again and again; he was a life saver.

I do not know what waits for you in the new year. I can guess, however, at some point in this year, you will make a mess. You will lose your temper, alienate a friend. You will overestimate your capacity and then fail to deliver a promise. You will be tempted to try to fix everything yourself. But you can't. No one can.

I have another friend who never hesitates when I need help because I have made a mess. He comes to help me right away. No matter what I have dumped on my life or on others, he comes right away to clean up the mess, to help me through, to guide me and to give me strength. He is the best 3 a.m. friend ever. You may have heard of him. If you need a friend when you have made a mess, call out to Jesus. He will be right there.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at