Imagine the youth group to be on a jovial party yacht and the adults of the church to be on a nearby cruise ship. I could best describe my memory of my high school graduation as stepping off the yacht's gang plank, into the icy waters of a secular college and full-time job, disappearing from the view of anyone on either ship. The years that followed were spent floundering in the turbulent waves of life, grasping at every life preserver that floated my way, only to discover them to be the empty enticements of the world.
By the time somebody on the cruise ship noticed I was drowning, I was too angry to be rescued. In my pride, I fought the help that was offered and pretended to be enjoying my swim. I began to sink deeper, now entangled by nets of my own foolish choices. I tried to convince myself that the fins circling me were surely just friendly dolphins, but in that stifled silence I knew the somber truth. I was alone, surrounded by creatures who cared naught for my life.
Maybe it was better for me to slip quietly away from both ships, as I didn't seem to fit in on either vessel. The water seemed less cold now, maybe even comfortable. A foamy wave enveloped my head, and just as my eyes were closing, I saw my largest predator detour my way. A feeble prayer was all I had left in me, but at this point I knew I wasn't worth being rescued.
As I braced for the fatal moment, a loud cry and a splash nearby alerted me that I wasn't the only one in the open sea anymore. Rather than teeth tearing at my flesh, I felt the nets writhe around my ankles until they fell away and I was pulled upward by strength that wasn't mine. The sunlight above the water's surface illuminated my rescuer's face, and I knew Him.
Regret and shame filled me as all I recalled the lessons He'd taught me on the yacht of my youth. This treading of water and swimming with sharks was never part of His plan. Where had I gone so wrong?
Even once I was safely on the cruise ship, I second-guessed the wisdom of my rescue. Now standing on the breezy deck, I was more chilled than I ever had been in the choppy sea. The sharks had disappeared, and from my vantage point, the water seemed a tranquil blue. A glance at my chafed and bruised ankles reminded me of the dangers that lurked below the surface. And yet I wondered if anybody would notice if I dove back in.
The other passengers on the cruise ship peered at me, but kept their distance. A few nods and polite smiles came from those with kind eyes. Should I try to blend in and pretend that I've been here the whole time? Do I dare admit that I miss the water? Would anybody here even understand what it's like to almost drown? Do they even want me here, or do they wish I had drowned?
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" A whisper cut through my musings. The lady beside me slid her arm through mine and pointed to the sun that had just touched the horizon and begun to paint its hues across the rippling waters. "Even the waves that almost drowned you become beautiful when touched by the Light."
With this year's high school graduation just around the corner, I've been reminded of the path I took when I graduated. It led me away from my familiar youth group, into community college and various jobs full of strangers and those that unintentionally made me comfortable with floundering spiritually. I remember the names of the sharks that circled me, and I still have scars from the mistakes I made during my years of running from God.
If you're in the "yacht" of high school and reading this, it may seem a bit dramatic. But whether you're starting to drown in high school algebra today, or college debt in a couple years, or career choices in a decade, remember that there are those of us who have swam in those murky waters before you. You're not alone, and we do understand. You can fight with pride and pretend like you can handle it, or you can let us lend a listening ear.
If you're comfortably settled on the "cruise ship" of adult life at church, you may be unaware of those young people around you who are grappling with all of the big life choices. Oh, I know you want to swoop in with all of your life advice from your accumulated experience! And while you may be completely right, just for this once, pause to remember your own struggles first. Uncover your scars and thank God for where He's brought you from. Don't just tell the graduates you're praying for them on graduation day; ask them weeks later about college or work or car troubles or summer vacation plans; invite them to join your Bible discussion group; ask them to partner with you on visitation or in a children's class. Don't assume they know how to swim on their own simply because they were doing so well in the youth group.
To those who, like me, have been rescued, I beg you - don't hide your scars. They are a testament to our Rescuer's compassion and long-suffering. Don't pretend that you've never been hurt; it is your wounds that let His healing show most clearly. If you see someone nearby who is struggling, be the person you wished would have reached out to you in your struggles.
And lastly, a word or two for those who are drowning even now. It may not have been graduation from high school that plunged you into the lonely depths of life; it could have been a romantic heartbreak, a family tragedy, a misunderstood illness, the loss of a loved one, social media bullying, or any other trigger that caused you to doubt the truth and forsake fellowship. Perhaps you read this story and resonated with the feeling of floundering and flailing. It is you, dear drowning one, that I seek most ardently to kindly warn. The sharks are not your friends; they are not able to be controlled or tamed; they will destroy you. You may be snared on the nets of your own choices, but they don't have to drag you down to your own grave. Your Rescuer is good; trust that He is able and willing and longing to pull you back to safety.
The goodness of God led Amanda to repentance when she was a 12-year-old girl, and despite a heart prone to wander, He daily draws her to Himself. She continues to attend Lehigh Valley Baptist Church where she was raised, and enjoys sharing digital art and snippets of what God is teaching her on her Instagram account (@amandaangrrr). When Amanda isn’t working her day-job of managing an insurance agency, she is likely to be found trying a new local restaurant, sipping a coffee delicacy, learning something from a podcast or audio book, or finding an excuse to show off pictures of her nieces & nephews.