Toward the Shore
The truth about why there’s no “us and them” when it comes to sinners who need a Savior.
by Cameron Lawrence
When the classroom door flung open, out poured 30 seventh graders into the brilliant Arizona sun, and I was one of them, looking around for friends on my way to the bus. The rest of the school had already been out for a few minutes and there, between two portable buildings, was a crowd of 20 students shouting. It could mean only one thing. A fight.
I walked around the half-moon of kids encircling the scuffle until I found an opening. There at the center of it all, one of the two boys being cheered on was my good friend Johnny. He’d never been a fighter, as far as I knew. I stood there somewhat bewildered, looking on just in time to see his foot land squarely against the other boy’s jaw.
I recalled that Johnny had been watching martial arts movies, and here he was, imitating them in the schoolyard. By the time the teachers came to break up the fight, he was standing there, posed like Bruce Lee, fists up, grinning at his success.
The summer before, Johnny’s parents took us fishing. We let our lines troll off the back of the boat as it cut gently through the water.
After a while of catching nothing, we decided to pull off into a cove to swim. With a dive, we broke the lake’s rippling surface and started for land, he in one direction and I in another.
I swam for what felt like ages before I made it to the beach and looked around for him. There he was, standing alone in his swim trunks—blond-headed and skinny, dripping wet on a small island in the middle of the cove, smiling.
Sometime after his fight, Johnny and I started to drift apart. Eventually, we lost track of each other entirely, as I moved on to another neighborhood and high school, and then to another city for university.
On a weekday afternoon, Dad called with some news. He said that Johnny had been in the papers. One evening, he and some friends robbed a grocery store, and in the process, Johnny stabbed an employee who had attempted to stop him. He was later tried and convicted of murder, and at the age of 20, received a sentence of life in prison.
The phone felt heavier in hanging up than it had when I answered. How could I reconcile the Johnny I had known with the version appearing in the news? Suddenly the incarcerated were no longer a faceless “them,” but a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy I once shot BB guns with in the desert.
We’d stepped out of childhood and into the waters of adulthood, vaster and more daunting than we had guessed. Life had taken us in different directions—myself somehow to a safer shore, and Johnny to an island. Only this time, he wasn’t swimming back.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my old friend. I think about him and the millions of other Johnnys out there—the brothers, uncles, cousins, fathers, and friends who set out toward dry land and discovered that they had chosen the wrong shore.
We’re not so different, you and I. And the moment we think we’re somehow better than them or anyone else, we lose ground in the battle for humility.
At some point, we all find ourselves in deep water, swimming for land with whatever strength we have left. And while our wrongdoing may not lead us to prison, if we believe that this fact somehow renders us less in need of saving, we have fallen for a mistaken gospel.
In the end, there’s no “us and them,” but only us: men and women standing together on an island of sin, in need of a Rescuer. And while we reach up for Him, waiting on redemption, we should also reach out to each other in prisons, in church, at backyard barbecues, on the job—everywhere, with love.
The Christian message is that we are more than the sum total of our wicked deeds. No matter what we’ve done to obscure our true self, it remains present within us, waiting for God’s cleansing to wash away the mire.
We wait to be revealed—to once again become like children, unashamed, panting after the hard swim, shining in the sun.