In lifesaving, you’re taught that when someone is drowning, not to come at them from the front.  If you do, the person you want to help is just as likely to cause you to drown.  You’re taught to dive deep down below them, surface behind them, and grab them.  Then, when you have them completely secured, can you lean back and let them float on top of you as you guide them to the shore.

I’ve always enjoyed that image.  That concept is what I’ve always understood to be the appropriate way to go about helping someone in a desperate situation.

Let’s face it, when we’re desperate, we’ll flail and scream and claw and do anything to keep from falling apart.  We’ll even take those closest to us down with us.  If you’ve never been in a situation like that, you really have no idea the amount of panic that overwhelms you.  Your mind seems to have a loud siren blaring, your body tenses so hard that you end up having muscles bruise or tear just from the stress, and your heart races almost coming out of your chest.  (and that’s only if you’re the one trying to rescue someone else)  It’s absolutely terrifying, and if you think even for a second, oftentimes you will freeze up and not act at all.

But, if someone isn’t drowning.  If someone isn’t quite on the edge of desperation, it doesn’t mean that help is any easier to give.  Most of the time in life we have long, lingering, malignant types of suffering that leads to dire situations.  Chronic places where our inability to overcome something, get past something, no longer be bound to something eats away at the person that we are until we’re raw, aching, and suffering.  Someone once said that the human condition is defined by suffering and trying to alleviate that suffering.  In many ways, I have to agree.

Whether it’s by choice or not doesn’t seem to matter.  People all have the same difficulty processing the age-old question, “How do I get out of this?”  When we hurt very long about the same issues, we develop some of the most intricate defensive and coping mechanisms.  If we were drowning, there wouldn’t be any subterfuge.  We’d flail and flail and reach out for anything.  However, if it’s not immediate, we can silently sit and watch the waters rise around us.  For years, people can see and feel the waters of desperation over aches and pains in our lives rising at our feet. 

An image that captures this for me is seeing the eroded cliffs at the oceanside.  The waves can be as gentle as can be, but eventually they start wearing at the edge and digging underneath.  Eventually the waves’ repetition makes staying on the cliff above hazardous for fear of it collapsing.  Everyone has been there, fearing things in our lives will fall apart and crumble.

We get really good as swiping the waters away from us, or propping ourselves up on something to convince us that the swells aren’t going to get very high.  We even get used to being wet.  We compensate, and learn to live with it.  Extending this metaphor is pretty easy, but I feel there is something here to think about.  When you notice the waters around someone else rising, how do you point it out without getting caught up in either the chaos brewing or the defensive mechanisms we use to delude ourselves that things are okay?

When I care for someone else who seems to be daily flailing or despairing, it’s difficult for me not to step up and say or do something.  After having pains taken away from me over the years, I long for others’ pain to go away.  Amazingly enough, I happen to know Who does His best work in us when we have nowhere else to turn.  Yet, my response often seems to be as if someone is drowning right now.  Immediate.  Matter of fact, and blunt.  Wham.

That doesn’t work nearly as well as one would think.  Trust me. 

But I’m learning to use the second part of the lifesaving lessons, that one needs to dive deep.  Emotions, histories, perspective, fears, tragedies, hopes, dreams… all need to be plumbed as they intertwine with the ways we’ve learned to cope and defend ourselves.  It takes a lot of stamina, a large ability to hold one’s breath, and wait for the opportunity to surface in a safe way to help keep those who are emotionally struggling afloat. 

Whether it’s sin, recovery, disappointment, abuse… brokenness still needs pairs of footsteps leading out of the water.  A bruised soul needs so much more than just truth.  A suffering spirit needs to be comforted and protected.  I’m learning.  It’s difficult to unlearn habits.  Really difficult.

Genuine can be gentle.  Present can be patient.  Companions can be compassionate.  Rescuing can be renewing.  Loving can be lingering.  Coming alongside is sharing the journey, not necessarily having to change the road.

What a transition from being temporary to being more permanent.  The understanding changing from where emergencies are easier to deal with to a life where one needs to learn to survive the long haul.  It is worth it… to help someone emerge out of rising waters around them, to help take away someone’s burdens and lay them down.