How to Find a Lifeguard in the Valley of Suck

My summers as a lifeguard, lifeguard trainer, swim instructor and pool manager were far from the glamorous experiences portrayed on Baywatch.  Most days were boring and miserable hot.  Kids were cranky and hungry (and so were their parents).  Reports, schedules, and paychecks were all part of the deal.  There were those times when all the training kicked in and you did what you were paid to do: rescue.

Most of the stories I have forgotten now.  You came to realize you really hoped you never had to actually go in to rescue someone.  Yes, the adrenaline rush is something but it is not worth it compared the reality of a young child losing their life.  The training was always worth it and I loved training lifeguards.  It could be grueling at times and pushed us as students to the limits but when the time came and you had to go pull a kid or adult out, you were always glad you had done what you did.

Part of the training for being a lifeguard pushed you to the point of exhaustion.  You rehearsed scenarios where you literally were fighting to "rescue" another student whose goal was to push you under.  The training has evolved but I'm not sure who can forget those times being completely overwhelmed by the water.

Water just rushes into any opening where it cannot be repelled or displaced.  This makes drowning an easier occurrence than we care to consider.  One stat is that 1.2 million people around the world die by drowning every year, that is more than two persons per minute.  CNN has a great article on the complexities and factors that contribute to drowning. Drowning is, quite literally, overwhelming and it can happen in less than 2 inches of water.

For many of us, our lives become so overwhelming, we too, are drowning but in our case it is societal and cultural and quite honestly, most people don't have time to care.  Most everyone else is doing their best stay afloat too. There are not lifeguards watching out for us in our lives.  (Well, they are there but because lifeguards work where everything is "organized" many do not want to go so instead they head to the "swimming hole."  That is my loose analogy with the church so do what you want with it.)  Villages don't raise our kids or watch out for us because we live in silos and cul-de-sac subdivisions and rarely know our neighbors.  We are more like the zombies on the Walking Dead than anyone of us would care to admit and we pastors, well, we need to make our deadlines too.

My sister-in-law asked me today at my wife's bedside about our favorite book in the Bible. I said I have one in the NT and one in the OT.  The NT book right now is Luke.  The OT one is the Psalms.  I've never much cared for the Psalms until I started drowning myself and needed to figure out what talking with God was all about.  Psalms hits on both those ideas (and plenty more).  We take a cursory glance and think it is just flowery words about God but the Psalm writer(s) is far more detailed than that.  In fact, gory and grievous are two words you might consider.

We develop our opinions based on headlines and sound bites which means my point in a recent Twitter post is so important to keep in mind: "If your faith can't be silent with the suffering then learn to be still & shut up: "Be still, and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10."  This is not really advice for the "suffering" or their caregivers at all.  It is for the rest of us who think we have to SAY SOMETHING or repeat some platitude because it makes us feel better in the moment when instead, we just need to shut-up and listen to the real life of someone who is drowning be that a sufferer or their caregiver.

The Psalm writer of Psalms 18, likely David, describes in poetic power, how God hears and comes to his rescue when everything is coming apart.  Not only that, God allows the writer to turn the tables on his enemies and experience victory.  But it is easy to lose track of what the writer extols. Two points which seem to speak volumes to me in the midst of my journey "through the valley of suck."

1.  God rescues the writer "out of many waters." (v. 16)
2.  The writer lived according to "his ordinances...and his statutes I did not put away from me (v.22)."

Now, the first point I've already touched on at length here.  God desires to rescue.  God wants to and longs to save!  For these reasons I simply cannot be in agreement, even together with faithful followers of Jesus, that it is "God's will" for my wife to suffer like this and my children to lose their mom far too soon in their lives.  But this world is corrupted by the disease of sin and it has corrupted all of our lives.  If God were to destroy all sin, none of us could survive because the disease itself is present in us.

There does exist a hope for us, though.  There is a light in the valley of the shadow of suck.  It is just ahead of us, guiding our path if we choose to follow it.  There is a way according to God' ordinances - we are to obey God.  It seems rather braggadocious how the writer claims to be "righteous" (24) and then talk about being "humble" (27).  However, these words are not in a vacuum and it is troubling when I read into the Old Testament texts what is not there.

The writer clearer does not take credit for his rescue nor his victory.  What allows him the confidence to say he is "righteous" is God's actions on his behalf.  That he does so DOES NOT mean this is THE "measuring stick" to determine if someone is right with God.  The stories of the later kings of Israel and Judah treated the "righteous" horribly and brutally, yet they are credited as being righteous.  How so?  Maybe it was because of how they honored "the ordinances" of God.

The Ordinances tell us to beware of our enemy who parades about as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) and "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20)!"   Those Ordinances tell us "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)."  None of these are mutually exclusive.

These very same Ordinances address the "light on the path" which has guided me through this valley of suck and the trials and struggles put before me.  How do you find the Lifeguard in the valley of the shadow of suck? It is prayer, Scripture and attending to Communion, these are the three means of grace the writer of Acts points to (Acts 2:42) and Wesley preached upon (Sermon #16 on "The Means of Grace").  I'm not saying these are easy, but like life guarding and from the Psalmist's lesson, waiting till your in the valley of suck is not when you need these.  You do them beforehand.

I do not have a clue about how bad your valley may suck (if you've read other writings from me, you know some of the valley I walk). I do know there is one who is available and willing to save and who gives you the grace; the power to call on Him.  God is not doing a new thing in this world.  God is doing the same thing he has always done - it is just new because it is you and me standing here.  God is willing and able to save if you are willing and humble to go God's way and that way is toward Jesus.


Stacia said...

Thank you for this great lesson! Hearts and prayers are with you in this valley. . .

Stacia said...

Thank you for this great lesson! Hearts and prayers are with you in this valley. . .

Ken Hagler said...

Thank you for stopping and by and commenting Stacia! I pray the lessons God has for you are means for grace to move in the world. Much love from the valley of suck!

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