Building a Safety Net
by Eric Elder
You might think that walking across the grand canyon on a tightrope without a safety net is crazy. But there’s something crazier still, and that’s doing life without a safety net.
I recently spoke at a local church about how you can build a safety net in your own life to keep from losing your faith in God, even in the face of significant loss. You can listen to the message at the link below, or read the transcript that follows.
Thanks, Tony. I made it through the first hour, but I’ll tell you, I had to grab a box of Kleenex to do it.
This is the first time I’ve stood up and preached on a Sunday morning since 10 months ago when I preached at my wife’s funeral. Just putting on my suit this morning–this is the same suit and shirt I wore preaching her funeral–and just putting it on again today, I said, “OK, God, I think I’m ready.” But can I ask you to pray for me, too, because I need all the help I can get. Let’s pray.
“Father, we thank You so much for walking us through the tragedies of life and just being there for us. Thank You for other believers, and especially for people in this room who have walked our family through this as well. I just pray that You would speak to each one of our hearts, Lord, that You would just help remind us that You are there, that You are with us, and that You can walk us through anything we go through. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
When Ron asked me to preach and to join in this series that they’re doing on “Who We Are,” and he asked me in particular to preach on this message, “Who We Are As The Church,” I was very happy to say yes. Because I am a strong believer in the church. And the church of course is not just the building and the bricks and the place where we gather, the church is the body of believers, the church is you and me, doing life together, that is the church, and that is who we are.
So I just want to talk to you today about the value of the church, the power of the church, and of course, you’re here this morning, so that means you’re already reaping the benefits of being part of the church, but I also want to encourage you this morning to get involved in a deeper way with some of the people around you. Because when we do life together, with close friendships, that’s when we really grow the most, that’s when we can support each other the most, and that’s when we can be supported when we need help as well.
We’re all going to go through losses. You might not have had a loss like I had this past year, but we all suffer losses in all kinds of ways: loss of job, loss of relationship, loss of health, loss of finances, or as in my case, loss of someone that I dearly love. It’s a part of life and we’re all going to go through it. So my encouragement for you today–this is my bottom line of the whole thing and then I’ll expand it–my bottom line is just get plugged in to some other believers so you can be there for them and they can be there for you. And that way you can get through these tragedies without losing your faith in Jesus. OK? Let’s start off.
Do you recognize this guy? Anybody recognize who this is?
Nik Wallenda, who three months ago walked across a gorge near the Grand Canyon, live on international television–without a safety net underneath him.
Just last week, this clip was voted the number one moment on TV for 2013. Of all the different–the final episode of “The Office,” or whatever other moments there were–this was the number one, the moment that people most were riveted by–as they watched this man, live on television, walk across a tiny wire–never been done before–across the Grand Canyon, without a safety net below him.
And you might say, “That guy is crazy.” And you would be right! But I’ll tell you, there’s something crazier, and that’s doing life without a safety net. And I want to talk to you this morning about how you can build a safety net under you. Because the truth is, even though he had no physical net, that man had a lot of people around him.
As you watch him do that, and you watch the tape of it, there are people on one side of the canyon, people on the other side, he’s been training for years, there were people talking to him in his headset, warning him about the wind, making sure things were going all right, talking to him the entire way. He’s talking to God. He’s talking to his team. This man was prepared. He did not do life alone, and you cannot do life alone. It’s even crazier, if you think you can do life on your own, and I’ll tell you some stories about me over these last couple years, particularly this last year and a half of walking through and how I just could not make it on my own.
A lot of things helped me through, my faith in Christ being the chief among them, but the believers in the body, coming around me was right up there and really helped make this so that I didn’t lose my faith as well.
This reminds me of a little cartoon. My kids love these cartoons and show them to me. I love this one.
This is two stick figures and the one says, “Don’t worry, I got your back,” and he’s holding the other stick figure’s back in his hand.
Who’s got your back? And whose back have you got? That’s what we’re talking about today. When we were searching for these, I found a few others. I just throw these in for your entertainment.
The next one says, “Well, that’s not a good sign,” and the sign says, “BAD.”
The next one: “Stop, you’re under a rest!” If you’re not a musician, that’s a quarter-note rest, and he’s under a rest, so as a musician, that’s actually funny.
And you might not like this, but I found this humerus. This is your humerus [pointing to forearm].
Anyway, when I talk about grief and death, it can sometimes be a heavy topic, so I hope you don’t mind if I lighten it up at some moments.
Let’s open our Bibles, and I would like you to look at three scriptures today. The first one is in First Peter chapter 2. It’s in the New Testament near the very end, First Peter chapter 2. We’re going to look at three different passages that talk about doing life together. This first one in First Peter chapter 2 is talking about coming together as “living stones.” This is to me the picture of the church, it’s not the brick and mortar that we see, it’s us as a people, we are living stones. First Peter chapter 2, verses 4 and 5, says this:
“As you come to Him, the Living Stone [that’s Jesus]–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
We are living stones. We are the church, not a building, but a people.
Let’s look at Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, also in the New Testament there, towards the end. This is a verse that talks about the importance of gathering together–being with other believers. Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, says this:
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
It’s very straightforward. Get together with other believers so you can encourage each other. Don’t forsake the assembly of the believers. Keep plugging in to other people’s lives.
And the third verse is in Ecclesiastes, back in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes chapter 4, verses 7 through 12. This is a passage that’s often read at weddings because it talks about two people coming together and helping one another, but I think it also equally applies to us as believers, coming together. That’s why I want to read it to you. Ecclesiastes 4, verses 7 through 12:
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless– a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12).
And when people read this at weddings, they talk about the three strands being a couple, the husband and wife, and God being the third strand, and that is not easily broken. It applies just as well to us, as a body of believers–two or three or many of us gathered together–is not easily broken. We can help each other. We can help each other up. And we can walk with each other through this thing called life.
I just want to tell you what’s helped me through. As I mentioned, it’s been 10 months since I preached at Lana’s funeral. And I can say that over all my years–I’ve gone to church all my life, and church is wonderful and I still go to church every week–but I have grown the most, and I have been loved and supported the most, and I have been encouraged in my faith the most, when I have gotten involved in a small group.
When I get together on a weekly basis with a few–6, 8, 10, 12–other people and study the Word of God, pray with each other, share with each other, that is by far the place I have grown the most in my faith, where I have been most encouraged, most supported, and I have been able to use my gifts to encourage others as well.
If you’re not in a small group right now, I encourage you to consider doing it–and not just consider it, but do it! But at least consider it. Give it a thought.
I want to walk you through some of the ways that small groups have helped me. And your small group might be a structured thing that gets together. It might be one of your best friends who is a believer that you talk to across the country or around the world by Skype. I’m not limiting to the church to just what’s here, but what you’ve got here is awesome. And there are people that are glad to lead you, and walk through life with you here, and that one-on-one, right here, in person, is so wonderful. So I want to encourage you to do that as well.
My small group that I was in when Lana was diagnosed–we, actually, Lana had discovered the lump and she wasn’t going to get it tested. She had had this before, different kinds of tests, and she would go and the doctors would have her tested and tested again and it never turns out to be anything, just false positives, no big deal. And so this is what she felt like again, she felt no, this probably isn’t anything. But to me it was different. Something had changed, and this was a different thing. I was very concerned about it but she wasn’t wanting to go talk to anyone about it.
We went to our small group one night and we split up–the guys went into the kitchen to talk a little bit and the ladies stayed in the living room–and as I left for the kitchen, I leaned over to her, and the ladies were sitting there, and I said, “Now are you going to share with them what we’re praying about?” And all the ladies turned and looked at her.
She said, “I wasn’t, but I guess I am now!” I left and she shared with them, and they really encouraged her, just through their life experience and some friends of theirs, to “just at least do it for our sake. Just go do it.” And I’m so glad they did, because they discovered it was cancerous. They discovered it was already spread throughout her body, that it was Stage 4, triple-negative [breast cancer], and in their words, incurable.
Having that knowledge ahead of time could seem like a terrible death blow to your life and your faith, but it was a gift from God, to be able to know that and walk through this, knowing that there was not a good chance that she was going to make it through.
But it started with our small group, just saying, “you know, I can do this on my own.” We can’t. We help each other. We need each other.
That small group walked us through. They cried with us, they helped us at doctor’s appointments, and they were there at the funeral. They helped participate in the service. And they’ve been there for us [our family] since.
After she died, I got in another small group. It was called GriefShare, which you have here at the church, too–a terrific program. And I was so hungry for this program. I couldn’t wait, every week, to go to GriefShare, where we were with about a dozen other people. We just watched a video. You could talk if you wanted. You didn’t have to talk if you didn’t want to, which was perfect, because some days I wanted to talk, some I didn’t want to say a thing.
It was hard. It was extremely hard. One of the lessons was to go home and write down all the things that you’ve lost with the death of your loved one. And I just got so choked up. I was like, “I would fill up pages of what I’ve lost. I do not want to do this, God! I can’t take it.” Just to sit there and list out every single thing I lost when I lost Lana. A homeschool teacher of my kids, my wife, my best friend, my intimate lover. I was like, “God, I can’t do this.”
But the next day I went home and I said, “OK God. They said to do it. They said this is good for me. I’m going to trust them.” And I did. I started writing down things that I mentioned to you.
I got to the end of the page and I was actually done. There were some big ones on my list. But I looked at it and I said, “This is what I’ve lost. I still have my kids. I still have my health. I still have my ministry. I still have my friends. I still have my faith.” The list of things I still had was huge. And it just helped me to go through that exercise.
It was hard work. But every week I was like, “OK, give me more God.” Because if you don’t deal with your grief now, it’s going to come out later and probably in ways you don’t want it to.
You can go through GriefShare any time. You can go through it several times. There were people in our class, they had lost their mother years ago and they were just now starting to process it. They said, “I need to deal with this, because it’s coming out in the way I treat my kids, the way I treat my work, the way I treat my bosses and friends. I just need to deal with it.”
Recovery doesn’t mean that you’re going to “get over it.” Rick Warren, some of you may know him and he wrote The Purpose Driven Life, he lost his son to suicide earlier this year. He has done an excellent series on grief, and whatever you think of the man, I’d say set it aside, and watch this series on grief. It is so powerful and so right on. You can go to saddleback.com or you can download an app [called simply “saddleback”] and watch it streaming on the Internet. But he says that you don’t get over a loss, but you can get through it. You can get through it.
So I want to encourage you: you can get through it. If you haven’t dealt with a loss in your life–some kind of grief in your life–it’s going to come out in bad ways. I want to encourage you: do the hard work.
About a month ago, I felt like I really turned a corner, to where it was no longer heart-wrenching to think about Lana, but actually heart-warming. They say in recovery, that’s a huge step, to where you can look back and think with fondness of the memories, without that searing pain that for me accompanied me for so many of the last 10 months.
I’m so glad now to reap the harvest of our garden. Lana always planted tomatoes, always planted peppers and onions and we would make salsa in the fall. We just did this a few weeks ago with the kids and just to go through Lana’s Sweet Salsa recipe. We videotaped it so we would remember how to do it and how to make it. You can watch it online if you want to go to The Ranch and look up “Lana’s Sweet Salsa.”
But just to do that with the kids and actually have that be a fun thing, an enjoyable thing, and say, “Yeah, this is what we were doing last year with Mom, and this is so good that we learned how to do this and I want to keep doing it.” Without that terrible pain. I feel like we’ve turned a corner and I’m able to say, “All right. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it. With God’s help, and with people around us, we are going to make it.”
I also want to say, when you’re in a small group, people show up. They’re able to help you. They’re able to bring a meal. Rick Warren said, when he was standing outside his son’s house, and they were waiting for the police to come and take care of all the things, that his small group was there on the driveway with him. They showed up in those first moments. He had been in the same small group for years. He was there for them when they needed it. And now, they were there for him. He said you don’t even have to say much. In fact, the greater the loss, the less you have to say. So if you’re worried about what to say, don’t worry, the less you have to say! Just show up. Just be there.
Rick also mentions it’s nice if you say, “Let me know if I can do anything. Give me a call if you need anything.” But he said that’s not really helpful to someone who’s grieving because their world is so befuddled. To me, people would offer that, but I don’t know what I need. I don’t have any clue. I don’t even know how to get through a day. Rick said, “Just say: I can bring a meal, do you want it Tuesday or Wednesday?” A simple choice. A simple offer of what you can do. And I said, “Wednesday.” And I’m happy. They’re happy. And we get a meal.
So if you know people who are going through grief, show up. Then offer something of service, just a practical, simple help. Give them a choice. If they say no, you can walk away. (Or if you know the person, you might have to just press through and just do it anyway.) But show up, and then serve them.
If you’re not involved with some other people in your life, you’re going to have to do it alone, and I’ll tell you that’s terrible to do.
We homeschool our kids, I’ve got three in college and my youngest three are here in the service this morning, 10, 13, and 15. Lana wanted me to continue homeschooling as much as I could. I work from home, so it’s possible–it’s conceivable at least. But whether I could do it, I didn’t know. She died in November, so we had another spring to go through, January through May. And I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know what to do.
But we tried to keep everything as much the same as possible because so much had already changed. I said, “I’m going to do it.” But I had two ladies that offered to help–Christians–friends of ours, and they said, “Can we come in once a week, and just help with their math or play a game with them or anything?” I said, “Perfect, thanks.”
I could do it then, because I didn’t have to bear it all myself. They would come and I was glad they could learn their conjunctions, and I can’t even think of everything they learned this year. But I really was happy just to have someone there helping, just to come in and I could go sit in my room for awhile, write a message, or do something else.
There are ways that people have stepped in and helped. I’ve had personal friends that have said, “Just call me anytime, day or night,” and I’ve done it.
There were times when I was overwhelmed and I was like, “I don’t know how I’m going to take it.” Even before Lana died, thinking about her dying, I would be like, “I cannot take this.” And my brain would start going in circles and I would think I was going crazy and I would call somebody and I’d say, “Can you just sit on the phone with me. I don’t even know what to say. But if you’ll just sit on the phone with me, I think I’ll be all right.” Then after a few minutes, it would pass and I could say, “OK, thanks.” And I could hang up, and I could go on.
If you need help, ask for it. You would think, in my position–I’ve walked many people through the death of their friends, their loved ones, their spouses, I’ve preached at their funerals–I should know this. I should be able to get through this. I should be able to speak to myself and talk myself through anything.
But I heard from another friend, who worked at a cemetery out in Denver, and he said that the manager of the cemetery, who’s been doing this for years, and walked thousands of families through their grief process, when his dad died, a few weeks later he was driving through the street and his wife was sitting next to him and his wife said, “All right, pull over. I’m going to drive.”
He said, “Why? What’s wrong?”
She said, “That’s the third red light you’ve gone straight through.” He had no idea. Of all people, he should have known what to do and how to help himself through it. But we don’t. None of us–none of us–none of us are super men, super women.
Let me encourage you today: get involved in a small group so that you can help others. And when you need it, they can help you, too.
I have one more slide here I want to show you.
This is not a drill. It’s a hammer. My kids hate that I explain the jokes, but sometimes people miss the obvious. This is not a drill. This life is so serious. Our faith is so important. Your role in God’s kingdom is so important.
I really struggled. Not really in questioning God, but questioning His plan. My kids don’t question that I love them, but sometimes they question my wisdom. They question whether I really know what’s best for them.” And I’ll tell you, that goes through my brain sometimes. I still have faith in God, but I do wonder sometimes, “Are You sure this is the best?”
And one of the questions I had was, and that God had for me was: “Do you still believe I can heal someone that has cancer?”
And I said, “Yes, God. I’ve seen it before, and I believe I’ll see it again.”
And then He asked me: “Do you believe I can heal someone who has triple-negative, stage 4, terminal breast cancer?” which is what Lana had.
That was a harder one. But I said, “Yes, God. You can do anything, absolutely, anything.”
And God asked a third question: “What will you do if you see someone healed of triple-negative, stage 4 breast cancer?”
You know, part of you just wants to be mad. But the other part says, “I will rejoice. You give, and You take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And so I just said that to God: “I will rejoice. And I truly will. You give and You take away. I will praise Your name forever.”
I believe that prayer broke something, and helped me in a turning point my life, to come back and say, “God has a unique purpose and plan for every one of our lives. He had a unique purpose and plan for Lana’s life, and her death, and what we’re going through now.”
And He has a unique purpose for yours. Don’t take what happened to Lana as any indication of what God has in mind for you. She would hate that, because you have your own life. She wants you to keep believing, and she said this in her video before she died: “I want no one to lose faith over this. I want you to keep having faith in the same Jesus that I put my faith in, and hope to see very soon myself.”
Keep your faith. Keep trusting God no matter what. We are the church, His people. Let’s pray.
Father thank you for this time again. Seal these things in our heart, that we can serve you even better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
As a thank-you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you our DVD, “To Lana, With Love,” featuring the Celebration of the Life of Lana Elder, who passed away on November 15th, 2012. Lana was the wife of Eric Elder and co-founder of The Ranch. “To Lana, With Love” also includes the short inspirational video, “Eric’s Hope,” to give hope and encouragement to others facing loss.
Click here to learn more or to make a donation.