The Lifeguard and the Buoy

I have known loss. I have seen tragedy, raw and messy. I have watched a mother bury her son; mourned with daughters over the loss of their father; wept bitterly with parents who buried their teenage daughter; stood incredulously at the door of a former colleague who just couldn’t continue. I have seen loved ones swept away by unseen floods. The swells swallowed them whole before anyone saw a ripple on the horizon.

Precious lives stolen away by overwhelming forces. Helpless families torn apart by decisions out of their control. Permanent solutions to temporary problems. One bad decision on one very bad day.

As I carry the knowledge of this deep pain and loss, I am forever changed. When I see ripples of despair, I take note. Minor blips on the radar can no longer be ignored after witnessing the unimaginable outcome.

When a lifeguard sees a struggling swimmer, he cannot ignore their plight. Even if the strained seafarer does not call out for help, the lifeguard will still stand vigilant. Based on his training, knowledge, and experience, he will act. In some situations he tosses a buoy line, which may be enough to aid an ailing sailor. In other situations, he jumps in to rescue the weary soul.

Cries for help come in a myriad of methods and means. Some are silent, virtually unseen. Others are vented bursts of steam — perhaps prolonged, perhaps intermittent…usually consistent.

When someone slips into a stream of sorrow, encouraging words may serve as buoy lines to help them gain their footing and find healthy perspective. However, there are times when those buoys aren’t enough. The line is too short; the current too strong. When someone is in danger of drowning in an ocean of despair, it often takes a lifeguard to jump in and utilize their training. I know there are times when my best efforts and best intentions just won’t cut it. The wound is bigger than whatever bandages are in my kit.

During those emotional triage moments, when my best efforts of love and encouragement fail, tough calls must be made. Do I keep affixing Band-Aids to an arterial wound, hoping for the best? There comes a time to admit that my training falls short. I can’t attempt to practice out of my scope. I must rely on fully trained and professionally qualified experts.

In moments of my own despair and anguish, do I settle for trite words of encouragement? Or do I dig deep into scripture and plant my knees in prayer? When my best efforts fail — and they often do — I must relinquish any façade of control and rely on the One who calms the storms. Whether I sink or swim is not mine to fear. I have only one option: Rest in the arms of the One who commands the waves.