To Save A Life

Have you ever heard that song by The Fray “How to Save a Life”? It pops on to various radio stations every now and then. If you haven’t I invite you to listen to this link.

The artist and lead singer, Isaac Slade has spoken several times about his inspiration for the song. As it turns out, he wrote it after being on a mission trip of sorts.

Next week I will join 14 other youth and adults from God’s Grace on a mission trip to the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, AZ. This will be the third Mission Trip I’ve gone on and, I have to say, I’m really looking forward to.

I remember the first Mission Trip I went on. It was over Spring Break when I was in eighth grade. My whole family had been invited to join the high school group in going to Booneville, MS. Going in, I had kind of this preconceived notion about what was supposed to happen on this trip. I saw it as me going in to help other people and that their world would be changed by what I did. I can tell you now, almost four years later, I was wrong.

The second mission trip I went on was about four months later with The Firm. We were going to go to Grand Junction, here in Colorado. While I’d been confirmed a few months earlier and my perspective on my faith had changed quite a bit since Booneville, my perspective on mission trips had remained pretty much the same. I was going to save them.

On that trip to Grand Junction, I road in the passenger seat of the 15 passenger van we rented. On the drive there and back I had the opportunity to talk to one of my mentors who has played a huge role in shaping my faith and relationship with God. I remember telling her about how we, middle school kids from Highlands Ranch, CO., were going to save the good people of Grand Junction. And to this day, I will never forget how she responded. She said that “People, don’t save people. God saves people. All we can do is love them.

People don’t save people. All we can do is love them.

The song, “How to Save a Life” was written after lead singer Isaac Slade went on a weekend retreat with a group from Denver to Shelterwood, a program for teens that were getting caught up in risky behavior and on the brink of going to jail. During this time, Slade was paired up with one particular teen. This 17 year old, like the others, had made some bad choices. He said that volunteers, staff, family, and friends all tried to reach out to this kid. They would tell him “This is wrong” “You have to stop” “If you don’t stop this will happen to you.”

Slade was both moved, surprised, and frustrated by the experience. He said in an interview that the kid he was working with was “just 17 and had all these problems. And no one could write a manual on how to save him.” Slade has explained that the verses of “How to Save a Life” recount an adult trying to help this troubled teen and the chorus describes how the singer has lost a friend, simply because he didn’t know what to do to save him. In a sense the song tries to outline a manual on how to save to a life.

Unfortunately, there is no such manual. All we can do is love people.

And we go on Mission Trips to try and learn how to do that. Many people go on these trips like I did, thinking that you have to make some big impact on the community in order for the trip to be worthwhile; that you have to come back with some great story to tell of what you did and how it helped. But that is all wrong. The impact isn’t made on the community; it’s made on you, the missionary. We don’t go on Mission trips to change the world, we go to be changed. We go to learn how to love people; to learn what it means to love our neighbor as God has loved us (John 13:34).

When people get away from everything they know, everything they’re comfortable with, everything they’re expected to be, most people do tend to change. They start to become this warm fuzzy person who will do just about anything without complaint, they link arms and sing with friends and strangers, all the while certain that they are never going back to being the person they were.

And mission trips are great, but they’re easy. Because when people return back home they find themselves back with the things and people they know, they get back in their comfort zones, they re-conform to being what they’re supposed to be. And all that “warm fuzzy Christian stuff” goes away.

So the ultimate challenge is pretty clear. We live in a broken world and harsh reality. We live in a world where both adults and teenagers feel the fear. We live in a world where both adults and teenagers don’t get what is going on. We live in a world where both adults and teenagers take their own lives to escape the stress of this world.

We live in a world that needs to be saved.

But it’s hard to keep that kind of warm fuzzy Christian love going. In reality, it’s probably impossible. But as Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13 “We can do all things though Christ who strengthens us.” Perhaps the best way to love more, is to pray more; to call on God to give us the strength to show His love. Because the reality is, our love just isn’t good enough. But his love is perfect, unconditional, and just what it takes to save a life.

Zach Herzog

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