A friend of mine shared a story of her son's faith: He was working at a facility in the South that cared for the elderly who could no longer care for themselves. A man who experienced dementia wandered off into the surrounding desert; time passed before the staff noticed, and they were unable to find his trail. There was no sign of him as the day passed into night.
The next morning, my friend's son made it his mission to find him. He took two bottles of water, and started out. But before he began walking into the desert, he stopped to pray.
"Oh, God," he whispered, "help me find him." He walked all through the morning with no particular course or direction. The heat of the sun intensified, and he drank one of the bottles of water.
He knew time would be running out for the old man, and in the face of his own dwindling energy and resources, he called out once more in prayer.
"God, I only have one bottle of water left," he said. "I need your help. Please let me find him."
As he lifted his head from this prayer, something registered in the corner of his eye. Just off to his left was the man, tired, scared and dehydrated - but still alive.
My friend's son called the facility, directing them to bring an ambulance as close as possible, and he carried the man out of the desert to meet them.
Word of his quest to find the man had filtered into the news stories of the day, and so when he returned home successful, reporters peppered him with questions.
"What was it like to be a hero?" they asked. The man quietly answered that he had only asked for God's help and was thankful that he had received it.
The reporters rolled their eyes and told him answers like that only made him sound like a religious nut. He had saved a guy's life - he was a hero. How did it feel to be a hero?
It is difficult, in a culture that prizes self-sufficiency, grit and determination, to acknowledge reliance on God. We admire those who are in control, who take charge of their own destiny. We are proud of our independence, of our ability to do it ourselves. We believe success comes through hard work and a strong will.
Needing help and asking for it is uncomfortable, because it feels like a sign of weakness. The reporters made it clear that asking for God's help in his search reduced their hero from mighty rescuer to a nonstory, from front-page hoopla to a footnote in the Friday religious section.
Yet it was only with God's help that the man was able to do what he needed to do. We, too, can do all that we need to do when we are strong enough to be weak and ask for God's help.
Sue Bahleda is pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.
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