Thursday, December 6, 2012

Save a Stranded Starfish

You've probably heard this story about the little girl, the beach and a starfish, but just in case you haven't here it is:
A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.
Engrossed in her task, she didn't notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, "What are you doing?" to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, "I'm saving the starfish."
He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. "Look ahead of you down the beach," he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. "There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can't hope to save them all. You're just wasting your time. What you're doing doesn't matter."
She picked up one starfish and looked the fisherman square in the eye: "It matters to this one," and then she tossed the starfish back into the ocean.
Little did she know, a shark was waiting out in the water and with one gulp, swallowed the starfish whole.
OK, maybe you didn't recognize that last line.  Does this ending sound more familiar?
And she tossed it back into the ocean where it hit a rock just below the surface and died instantly.
Or it sank to the bottom of the sea, lived a few more months and then died a natural death, slipping into oblivion.  Just one more dead starfish.
You say that's not the ending you're used to?
Oh, that's right.  The story ends with the little girl throwing the starfish back into the water.  Period. That's it.  And the point of the story is that what the little girl did MATTERED to that ONE starfish.  And the larger point, the life lesson, is that even if we can help only one, it still matters.
Well, I hate to by cynical about this great story.  It's one I really like.  And I'm all for helping people and animals, including starfish, but I thought about this story a little more and I wondered:
What good is it if I help someone in need if they die without knowing God?
What if I help them get over their addiction, help them out of their poverty, soothe their pain, but in the end they die and miss out on salvation?
Isn't it a little bit like tossing a starfish out into the ocean only to have it land in the open mouth of a shark or on a sharp rock?
So they don't die stranded, addicted or miserable, but they die faithless? Hopeless? God-less?
Now, don't get me wrong here.  I am not saying that we shouldn't help people.  I'm not saying leave someone stranded.  I'm also not saying we should only help people just so we can "save" them (i.e. get them to become a Christian). I just mean, isn't the most help -- the best help I can give a stranded fellow human being is to share the eternal hope and peace that comes with knowing and loving God? 
I had to ask myself - Am I relieving others pain by listening, sharing and giving (as I should), and yet allowing them to remain in complete ignorance about the ultimate pain reliever - trust in God?  My helpfulness is good.  God expects me to help the poor, care for widows and orphans and yes, to be kind to dying starfish.  He expects me to show nothing less than LOVE toward others, even those I don't like or agree with!  Remember the Good Samaritan?  I am supposed to stop and help, even go the extra mile.  I should not pass by a stranded starfish.  But do I just toss the poor little fella'  back into the water?  Does the starfish know who created the water?  Does the starfish know, after I leave, that this Creator of the water, the waves, the wind --will ALWAYS be there?  Even if the shark is hungry or the rock is jagged or the waves are rough or the water is deep - He is there.  And He offers more than just a temporary fix, or in this case a temporary "toss."  We may need a hand up, a handout or a healing from an illness.  And yet, there is a bigger, more profound healing we all need, isn't there? We can overcome sickness, but we can also overcome DEATH thanks to what Christ has done.  And when he reaches out his hand and we take it, we get more than a handout, he helps us rise to a new life.  Not just a better life. A new life.  Like being tossed into a whole new ocean - an eternal ocean of grace and peace. 

OK, I'm talking about other stranded starfish. What about me?  I know God.  I love God.  I am a saved starfish, but not a perfect starfish.  Several folks have found me stranded on the beach in dire straights.  I was DONE.  Finished.  And they tossed me back into the water.  I thank God for them.  And I thank God for the gift of salvation I accepted as a child, because it meant when they tossed me back into the water, whether Jaws or a jetty was waiting, I would still be OK.  I would be with God - - whether the end came the instant I hit the water, or many years later.

So I'm all for inspiring stories and I really don't mean to be morbid, but sometimes my brain just takes me places and well, this blog is where I share that journey.  Glad you made it this far.  I'll leave off with this Starfish Prayer:
God, help me when I am stranded, but don't take me off the beach if it is there I learn to depend on you. Remind me that In the water or out, you are my God.  
And Lord, may I share who you are with others, both through my kind acts of charity toward them and in the courageous words you will give me.

- Hope A. Horner
Twitter:  HopeNote  (Look for the little red book icon.)

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