As a child I read a lot. At some point in all of my reading of fantasies, mysteries, and adventures I determined that quicksand was going to be an issue in adult life. I knew I should be as prepared as possible in the event that I came face to face with this potentially deadly peril. I don't know why I fixated on quicksand since there are other things like volcanoes and landslides to avoid as well. I think quicksand was more worrisome because it could be anywhere, disguised as regular old sand or dirt. At least volcanoes are pretty obvious.
I researched for hours on how to avoid quicksand, how to escape it if trapped, and what I should carry with me in anticipation of becoming ensnared. Indiana Jones would've been proud and my parents felt as if they'd finally gotten their money's worth out of the Encyclopedia Britannica set we had lugged from one military assignment to another. As it turns out, I moved into adulthood super prepared for quicksand but not so prepared for things like dealing with the deep ache of losing a close family member, the anguish of divorce, or the wrenching loneliness of familial estrangement.
As I was laughing over the memory of my quicksand obsession with my husband and sister recently, I realized that the ways of escaping quicksand are much akin to the skills and techniques Stephen Ministers use to help our care receivers on their journeys.
Make yourself as light as possible-toss your bag, jacket, and shoes. While a Stephen Minister isn't taking a physical burden from the care receiver, we are there to allow our care receivers to unload the extra baggage that is making their situation so heavy.
Try to take a few steps backwards. Stephen Ministers help care receivers to look at a situation from another perspective; the perspective that God is there walking beside them and that they are not alone.
Keep your arms up and out of the quicksand. Stephen Ministers talk with their care receivers and help them in finding ways to stay above the grief, the hurt, the disappointment, and not be pulled further under by offering hope and support.
Try to reach for a branch or person's hand to pull yourself out. The Stephen Minister is there to reach out a hand to someone who is floundering and cannot manage to get out of the mire of feelings they are in. While the Stephen Minister doesn't jump into the pit to join in the grieving or hurting, they offer a steady hand to hold, to lift a care receiver out of the quagmire.
Take deep breaths. Having a Stephen Minister means a care receiver is not walking alone through grief or hardship. There is someone who is there to offer comfort and support so they can freely breath and not feel so burdened by crushing feelings.
Move slowly and deliberately. Stephen Ministers are there to walk with a care receiver for as long as they need. The goal is to move along with the care receiver, not push them towards a rapid resolution of the problem or a total elimination of the feelings a care receiver may have.
There are also things one should NOT do in quicksand, as it only makes the situation worse and, again, these are applicable to Stephen Ministry.
Don't Panic! Panicking will make the situation worse and cloud your ability to utilize the skills that will actually get you out of the situation. A Stephen Minister is there to lean on and voice fears to.
Don't swing your arms! Flailing about with no real intent will liquify the quicksand. In a crisis, the swinging of one's hands is akin to running around in a full panic with no clear objective and nothing helps. The Stephen Minister is there to hold the hand of a person in need.
Don't "heave-ho"! It's always tempting to ask people to yank you out of a situation but expecting a fast resolution to something that bogs you down such as deep emotions or a difficult financial period doesn't always work. Slow and steady movements are more successful than pulling upwards against a powerful vacuum.
Stephen Ministry is a program designed to help people going through crisis periods that often feel as sucking and dangerous as quicksand. To the care receiver, the Stephen Minister is that branch or hand offered in help, it is the calming voice, the understanding that you are stuck and scared and they are there to help you crawl out of the quagmire. If this has resonated with you either through a need for someone to be that hand and voice of comfort or because you know you can help someone feeling this way, please contact Pastor Scott or any member of the Stephen Ministry team for information on having a Stephen Minister or becoming one yourself.