When I was at the University, I had to undergo counseling as a requisite for my degree in Psychology. It was a good thing; that was a really rough period in my life, and I could use guidance, even if it was only a grad student’s. He said something one day that has reverberated in my head ever since. He said that I seemed to go through life looking for a lifeguard; I get myself in trouble, grab the closest one on the beach, and as soon as I have solid ground under my feet, discard him and move on. I needed to find my own strength. After 20-plus years, I think I finally have – but in my very next thought, I know I’d be smarter to just keep one on retainer.
I was happy to find when I became a Christian that there was not only a savior, but a guide to follow. Because the more I read, I saw that I’d be in some seriously deep, live water with nobody I knew leading the way. I will get in over my head and need assistance. The trick is in accepting the challenge to go into ever deeper water and trusting that He is really there. It’s in His best interests, after all, for me to succeed in His name.
My dad knew he could not swim. He knew his float point was the bottom of the pool. But it never stopped him from going where everybody else went. He trusted that life vest enough to wear it. I will never forget the look on his face when we stopped one time in a small cove to take a break from skiing with family friends. We kids all dove overboard and began playing in the sheltered waters of a little bay. He threw the anchor over and noticed it stopped about a foot short of the end of the rope. “How long is that rope?” he asked his best friend. “Uh, a hundred feet, why?” My dad’s quick calculation of the height of the boat and slack in the line left a stricken look on his face, seeing all his children overboard, and himself in a life vest. Even though we were all competent swimmers, he knew that he was not. And this was some seriously deep water.
I liken faith to that life vest. My dad trusted it to preserve him in case of accident and potential demise. He never would have jumped over to go swimming with us, but he could feel secure in the boat as long as he had it.
How many lives have been lost because people bought the jackets but then were too proud to actually use them? Accidents will happen in this world, no matter how much preparation we do to avoid them. But we also have no need of one if we never venture with Christ beyond the Starbucks kiosk on the church patio. Church membership needs to be a lot more than so much fire insurance. We have to take chances and try new things in order to grow and achieve anything. We have to have courage and confidence to go beyond our depth, but also the humility to ask for assistance when we need it. I know it wasn’t the easiest thing Dad ever did to admit to his best friend that he feared going out on the boat, but he got in it anyway and watched his children learn to waterski. It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever done to proclaim Christ in my blog – but it’s what I’m given to write, so I do, and ask Him to please not completely offend my friends. Worthwhile accomplishments never come easily.
But frankly, I really don’t like staying in the shallow end anyway. It’s safe, but…. Many people advised us against moving to Las Vegas years ago, because it would be moving into the very lap of the enemy. Our entire family would be lost in the seductions of the devil’s workshop. We went anyway because we could have twice the house, twice the lifestyle, and at the same price as California living. At least we weren’t lured by the world’s treasures. It killed me to give up my beach, but that’s another story. I found life there to be challenging, but not because of the charms of the Strip. I fell in with people who asked me hard questions and made me realize I was using ChristianityLite, and not the real program that Martin Luther and Corrie ten Boom set their very lives on. It was during this time that I came across a quote by C.T. Studd: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” Hmm. I am just selfish enough to not want to risk myself for someone else. And there is a lot of security derived from having believers around me. Maybe, in the midst of the flock, I can just baaa my way in the right door.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that I cannot seem to stay in the midst of the flock. I have a perpetual fascination with rebels. Not truly evil, mind you; I am just drawn inexplicably to the sheerly rebellious side of life. I am not embarrassed to wear the life jacket, but I want to go further. I want to dive and look at fish and experience all of life. I want the reality spoken of in Acts, not just a provider/protector persona that I can pull out of my purse as needed. There’s so much more to faith than mere security. In order to shuck the jacket and do more, I must develop a relationship with the lifeguard; Christianity is a team sport.
This may border on blasphemy, but I had a friend years ago who was the biggest kid any of us had ever known. He was 6’3″ and 240 lbs. of pure muscle before he entered high school. I’d known him since we were 8. About the time I started college, life got crazy; too many changes happened too suddenly and I developed a hair trigger. Our group was large and diverse, and trouble abounded – with me in the thick of it. But every time I got in over my head, my buddy’s huge arms would close around me, pick me up, and remove me from the situation. I could struggle against him, cry in his big leather bomber jacket, or just snitch the flask from its pocket; he was always there when I was in need. I was safe with him. I imagine this is what God is like, to a certain degree. His big, strong arms are capable of stopping me or the situation, and nobody dares challenge his authority. He saves you from yourself just before you become one with the pavement.
Okay, my homeboys are now on the floor, and it may be a minute before the giggles and tears subside. I told you it bordered on blasphemy, but it’s been a picture in my mind for months. That man is probably one of the best friends any of us ever had, and I know I’m not the only one from that group who would stand in front of speeding trains for him to this day.
But how many of us will say that about the one who actually allowed himself to be nailed to rough-sawn lumber to die for our misbehavior? My buddy never even so much as took a punch for me. And yet we’ve have shaken our fists, denied and cursed the very name of the Creator who made us. If you have followed the story of Jesus’ life at all, he chose to do it. He is recorded, several times, as having disappeared from the midst of a crowd when necessary. He could have done so again at any time. But he chose to put the problem to death, once and for all, so that it could not endanger me anymore.
It seems so pitiful that all I have is “thanks” to offer in return. He asks me to live offensively and lean into every situation put before me, just as He did. But I won’t do that on a “Thou Shalt”. I’ll only do that for (or with) a known, trusted friend. I must develop a relationship with the one who saved me, so that He knows me well and I begin to trust Him with my everyday safety.
Maybe that’s why I’m still drawn to live on the dangerous side. I’ve been plucked from the clutches of death now several times for the sake of righteousness, whether it be the integrity of my car’s roofline or my son’s life, and I’ve realized that my Savior is real. Just as real as the warm, leathery smell of that black bomber jacket, I know God is there. He’s not giving me stuff, and I don’t need him to. He’s already given all He needs to. I am living within reach of hell, and I feel the heat. The other sheep in the flock already have their safety assured. With the shadow of my savior in my periphery, I am encouraged to venture out to other rebels who are just as tired of being alone in the rough waters as I am. I can show them there is someone there for them when the tide starts ripping. Because that’s when we all could use a strong, trusted friend.
“Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible.”
– C.T. Studd