Screaming hysterically, a mom followed the paramedics holding her 4-year-old little girl into the Emergency Room. Mom and daughter had been enjoying a day at the lake. As the mom’s back was turned the little girl ventured too far and found herself in deep water. By the time mom turned back, the little girl was drowning.
Because I was a phlebotomist (someone who draws blood), I was not directly involved and could do little to help. I often think back to this scene when I’m watching someone with whom I’m not directly involved, self-destruct. It may be a friend’s husband or child struggling with drugs, having an affair, starving themselves, or performing any other destructive behavior.
Being a bystander makes me uncertain how to help or boundaries I should follow. However, a story in the bible helps me understand the part I should play in these types of situations.
In midst of a terrible storm at sea, Jesus’ disciples become frightened. Suddenly, they see Jesus walking on the water toward them. Fear turns to courage and excitement for Peter, one of the disciples. He jumps out of the boat and walks on the water toward Jesus.
Peter quickly realizes how horrifying it is being outside the safety of the boat. The waves are tumultuous and the wind is relentless. He also grasps the absurdity of walking on water so deep he can drown within seconds. Understandably, his attention turns away from Jesus and is put on the ferocious waves. As soon as his eyes are off the Man with the power to keep him on top of the water, he sinks and begins to drown. He screams out “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reaches down and catches Peter. (Matthew 14:22-33.)
Okay wait. That’s it? That’s the story? What does that have to do with being a bystander?
When Jesus and Peter take center stage in the story, the disciples become part of the background, the bystanders. What are they doing as they watch this scene play out? Are a few gossiping about Peter being reckless? Is one yelling, “You’re a moron, Peter!” Is another updating his Facebook status with this turn of events? What were they doing? What were they feeling?
Climb into the boat as we live out the scene as the bystanders.
Our peaceful, calm, middle-of-the-night boat ride is suddenly interrupted with a powerful storm. The massive waves threaten to capsize us. We’re tossed violently unable to stand. We hold tightly to the side of the boat to avoid being thrown into the sea.
Trying to get our bearings, we see Jesus walking in the midst of the storm, on the water. It’s baffling but beautiful. We feel as if the Coast Guard has arrived. There’s hope, excitement, relief.
However, one of our friends gets so excited he jumps out of the boat! “What is he doing? He’s lost his mind!” As we strain to see over the waves, expecting to see him swallowed by the sea, we instead see he’s walking on the water toward Jesus. But suddenly, he gets distracted by the powerful storm and fierce waves, sinks, and begins to drown.
We are helpless in the boat being beaten by waves and are of no help.
So we scream to Jesus, “Save him!” We watch Jesus’ strong arm reach down into the water and we begin to yell to our friend, “Take His hand!” But the choice is his whether to accept Jesus’ hand or try to save himself.
When his choice is to save himself, we are forced to watch helplessly as everyone hurts over his misguided decision. What are we to do?
- Pray!!!!!! The disciples did this as they yelled out to Jesus to save their friend. We must pray for the drowning person’s family to hang on tightly to Jesus through this storm. We must pray for the drowning to realize he can’t save himself and accept help.
- Don’t judge! “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down…” (Luke 6:37 MSG). All of us have made poor choices and hurt people we love.
- Love the drowning person. Speaker and author Max Lucado was asked, “What does love say?” He responded, “Love says nothing. Love stays silent. Love doesn’t expose. It doesn’t gossip. If love says anything, love speaks words of defense. Words of kindness. Words of protection.” We can dislike the decisions and still show love to the person.
- Don’t leave the scene. Relentless storms cause weariness which causes many bystanders to just walk away. Want to make a difference? Stay there. Link arms with the family and surround them with love and support. Keep praying. Ecclesiastes 4:12, “….a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
In case you’re wondering, the little girl in the emergency room lived with no lasting negative effect. As a bystander, I was able to comfort the mom as the doctors worked on the little girl. We may be bystanders but we can still make a difference in the life of the drowning and their family.
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©2012 Connie Davis Johnson