Yesterday, I stumbled across a television show about law enforcement officers in Alaska. I’m not sure what it’s called and have no idea what channel it was on. I was doing something else, and the show was playing in the background. I wasn’t paying much attention, but at some point, the show caught me.
Two men on snowmobiles had gotten separated during a snowstorm, and at least one of them had ended up spending the night in the frozen wilderness, lost, cold and alone. Rescuers mounted an extensive search for the second man. Their efforts were hindered by the fact that the first man was so cold and disoriented, he couldn’t provide any useful information about where he’d last seen his friend. No matter how many times rescuers explained that this was north on the map, or this area was uphill and that area downhill, the poor man just couldn’t understand.
A couple of guys in a helicopter searched a particular area, hoping to find some sign of the second man. It seemed like a lost cause, but finally, after a lengthy search, they spotted his abandoned snowmobile on a ledge. This was a great relief on one hand, because there were so many places where he could have gone over a ledge to certain death. Of course, he might still have done that once he left the snowmobile and set off on foot, but at least they knew he hadn’t plummeted over a cliff going 60 miles an hour.
Rescuers called in the coordinates to the ground crews and then, miracle of miracles, they spotted the missing man on the ground. He was upright and moving. Another miracle. They landed the helicopter and started calling for him.
This is where the show really grabbed my attention. The rescuers called and called, but the lost man — Dave — didn’t answer. After a few minutes, the camera operator spotted him in the trees. As we watched, Dave peered cautiously around a tree at the helicopter, the rescuers, and the camera operator, but he made no effort to step out of the trees or come toward them. In fact, he seemed almost afraid to let them see him.
Rescuers called to him again, and finally, slowly, cautiously, still obviously nervous, he began to make his way through the snow toward them. He was cold. He’d been lost all night. Here was rescue, but he’d become so disoriented, he didn’t even recognize help and safety when it was right in front of him.
As I thought about that show, it occurred to me how often we do the same thing in life. We get ourselves so deeply in trouble that sometimes we can’t even recognize help and safety when it’s standing right in front of us. Instead of running into the arms of those who can help us, we hold back and peer at them from behind the trees, convinced in the midst of our delusion that we can solve the problem on our own. We’re so lost and confused, so battered by the elements, we somehow believe that it’s safer to stay in the wilderness alone than to step out of the forest and make ourselves vulnerable.
The friends we’ve come to rely on are often as deluded and lost and disoriented as we are, ourselves. We put out trust in them, but they can’t help us to safety. They can’t recognize it, either. We get lost together, so we never quite comprehend that none of us knows where safety lies.
And all the while, Christ is standing there, in the clearing, calling our names and urging us to come out of the forest to safety.
photo credit: Acty Yonezawa via photopin (license)