I don’t know if you happened to catch the news about the 80 beachgoers who formed a human chain to rescue a stranded family out in the ocean. It’s a beautiful story and worth your time to check out. And it reminded me of the church.
I know there are lots of people who have been wounded by the church. They have found themselves struggling out there against the current of life and begging for help. They’ve found the church to be stubborn and unfeeling– standing there on the shore yelling things like, “Why’d you get yourself into that position? Just swim harder!” And then there are the churches that function more like the police officer who jumped in to help, but realized how desperate the situation was and went back to shore to wait on a boat. Those churches would like someone else to clean you up a bit before they have to get their hands dirty. Can’t the government help you out of your situation? Wouldn’t counseling fix it before you come here with your problems and weirdness? Those churches would love to help, but maybe just not right now and not with that particular problem.
Then there’s the church I’ve come to know and love. They are a group of people who function as one body. They see you struggling and when you yell and wave for help, they feel compelled to do something. There are those who stand on the shore and reach out their hands because that’s what they can offer. There are those who step a bit into the shallow water and do what they can. And there are those who risk it all to reach out to you before you sink beneath the waves. That body all depends on each other to be strong, to know their role, to keep the goal in mind, to not let fear shatter their resolve.
I have been in every role in that process. I have been stranded out there in the water with my family. Scared. Isolated. Not sure who could help us. I have been the one on the shore, not sure I can be a help, but willing to do what I can. I have been the one standing in the shallows, offering what I can like the widow offering her one coin for God to use. And I have jumped in– all in– to rescue someone in need. This is what we do as the church when we’re functioning as God intended us to.
There is nowhere I see this analogy more strongly than when it comes to foster care and the church. In foster care we regularly have families who are drowning. Biological families and sometimes even foster families who find themselves in over their heads. The tendency to want to pretend you’re doing fine is there. We don’t want anyone to know how scared or unequipped we feel because we’re afraid they’ll judge us harshly. They won’t offer hope or help, they’ll offer “solutions” from the shore. So we drown. We silently drown within arms reach of the people sitting safely on the shore. But when we can take the first risk to recognize our need, wave our arms and ask for help, that’s when we allow the church to do what it was created to do.
In healthy churches where people want to be The Body to families in need, we see them stretch out their arms to offer hope. They do it through casseroles, counseling funds, babysitting offers, coffee drop-offs, and prayers. Some stand on the shore, some put their toes in the water and some dive in. Everybody plays a part in helping pull that family back to shore. This is why every foster family needs a community. Every FAMILY needs a community.
I coordinate our church nursery and last week I asked for volunteers. I told them about the needs of moms in our community for rest and restoration and that we wanted to be sure we were helping them by staffing our nursery with not just moms, but middle schoolers through grandparents. The response was overwhelming. I got email after email of people willing to help, to the point that we may need to have a waiting list to serve in our nursery. A WAITING LIST. This is a body of people I have watched again and again link arms to rescue the drowning. The mom working to get her kids back. The addict in recovery. The ones struggling with marriage issues or parenting issues. The family in financial trouble. Those struggling through job loss or homelessness. Me.
We do it because Jesus did it for us. We aren’t the rescuers in this story because our selfish tendencies would be to sit on our beach blanket, eating our picnic lunch. No, we choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus because his love is in our hearts.
If that isn’t your experience of the church, keep looking. Those people exist and they want to love you. And maybe that community doesn’t exist because you haven’t been in a position to link your arms to the people next to you and help create it. It is far too easy to judge those who aren’t doing the work instead of helping do the work yourself.
This beautiful hard work of community living takes all of us. And takes all of us giving all of ourselves. I’m glad to see that picture today in the work of 80 beachgoers and I’m thankful that family (and my family) has experienced a story of rescue.