Rescuing the Drowning

The following essay originally appeared as the Commentary to the February 24th entry from Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.

Rescuing the Drowning
by Diane Adams

Photo by Aimanness Photography

In my late teens, I was a drowning person. Drowning in fear, self-doubt, depression, suicidal thoughts, and deep emotional pain, I was untrustworthy and unstable. Drowning victims are dangerous. I used drugs, alcohol, sex--anything or anyone who might make me feel, even for a short time, sheltered from the hell inside I could not face. Any soul who entered my orbit was in danger of being pulled down. A drowning victim will do that. When you swim out to try and help, a panicked victim may grab hold of you and try to use you to climb out, even if that pushes your own head under the waves in the process.  

It is a terrible thing to watch someone drowning in the waves of life, unable to make a single good choice, overcome by negative patterns of thinking and behavior, on the road to destruction, and ignorant of just what life can do to those who refuse goodness. As someone who has been rescued from a life that was sinking, the first impulse I had when I learned to swim was to go back out and save other victims.

A survivor knows the struggle others are facing. He has discovered how to live again and wants most of all to teach those drowning how they can be saved. But there is something important here that is crucial to understand in terms of how we can truly, spiritually, help a soul that is in agony without getting harmed ourselves and without actually harming the person we’re trying to help.  

God does not usually rescue us from circumstances. He rescues us through them. Jesus refused outer change. He would not reform the world from the outside, through systems of government or practical living advice. His focus was doing the will of the one who sent him, walking the path that was his alone. In doing this, in walking his path, he was saving the world in truth--not with superficial Band-Aids, but from the deepest heart of the matter. Jesus taught by example that salvation lies in the direction of the soul, not in a new way of doing the same old thing. When Jesus refused the kingdoms of this world, it was a rejection of circumstantial change in favor of truth in the innermost being.

Rescue work is an inside job. Advice, recommendations on what people should do, is not usually inside work. It can be helpful, but it can also be harmful. Not one of us really knows exactly what another person ought to do. To get wrapped up in creating and assisting with outer changes can end up hurting the one we’re trying to help. This is especially true once we’ve given advice, because with advice comes a certain degree of responsibility for another’s choices that can very quickly become insupportable.

Many tried, but no one could help me until I myself reached the point where I was willing to stop running. People with wisdom tried to speak to me, but I could not hear. Instead of speaking truth that someone is not ready to accept, look for ways to provide soul acceptance to a victim. Become a listener, a person who cares, but not the one who has all the answers. People only find true answers from inside, from the work of the Spirit. You may have the answer, but it may not be the time to give it. Pray quietly and wait for direction. Do not mistake a frantic urge to rescue someone who does not want to be helped as a divine mandate that gives you a sense of failure because you did not meet it.

Reality is that no one can take on responsibility for another person’s existence or choices. The burden is too heavy, and it can end up pulling us back in the water ourselves. We cannot carry around another soul and protect and guide it through this world. There is only one who can do that. There is only one rescuer, one savior. It is not me and it is not you. We can and should be friends along the trail to all who will allow it, share what we can give, what a drowning person is able to receive. But we are not saviors and must understand this if we would truly be of use. Refuse the temptation to reform another person. It is not your job.

Solomon wrote: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” Key words here: “right circumstances” and “listening ear.”