SOS is the commonly used description for the international Morse Code distress signal. SOS spelled out with rocks or limbs on a beach or in snow can be seen from overhead. This is a way of signaling someone if one is lost or in danger. With the development of audio radio transmitters, there was a need for a spoken distress phrase, and MAYDAY was adopted as the equivalent of SOS. MAYDAY is actually French for M’aidez which means “help me.”
We often associate SOS with the tragic circumstances surrounding the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The Titanic found itself in a dire situation and the crew desperately cried out for help, assistance and intervention by sending out SOS distress calls via wireless, signaling by lamps as well as by shooting off distress rockets. Captain Edward Smith and his crew fervently continued signaling for help, expecting to be rescued. Upon hearing the urgent cries for help from the Titanic, the RMS Carpathia responded. The Carpathia was 58 miles away and rushed to render aid. Captain Arthur Rostron set a course at maximum speed through a dangerous ice field. He ordered the ships heating and hot water cut off in order to make as much steam as possible for the engines. At full speed, it still took four hours to arrive at the scene. The Titanic had sunk two hours earlier. The Carpathia rescued 705 survivors, many who later died from hypothermia. The number of lives lost was over 1,500.
The real tragedy of this horrific event in history is that there was another ship that was within 20 miles of the Titanic. This ship, the SS Californian, was captained by Stanley Lord. The Titanic crew’s cries for help were ignored and unheeded by the crew of the Californian. They saw the flares being shot into the air but failed to respond. Hours later when they became aware of the Titanic’s fate, the captain took his time and charted a circuitous route to get there and arrived only after the Carpathia had rescued the survivors. During the inquiries afterwards, Captain Lord changed his version of the incident multiple times. He gave many reasons, excuses, and rationalizations for his actions. His crew testified they were close enough to see the lights on the Titanic and the emergency flares being shot off. The British inquiry found that if the Californian had responded to the Titanic’s distress rockets and gone immediately to assist that it “might have saved many, if not all, of the lives that were lost.” Author Allen Buller wrote, “The crime of Stanley Lord was not that he may have ignored the Titanic’s rockets, but that he unquestionably ignored someone’s cry for help.”
In our life, which ship best represents who we are in relationship to SOS calls? Are we like the Titanic, desperately sending out distress calls to be seen and heard? Are we enduring the pain when we realize our pleas are not being missed but dismissed? Are we crying out for intervention and response? Are we praying that those around us would not be desensitized to our plight and disregard our continual cries for help?
The next comparison would be to the Californian. Are we like the Californian in that we’re negligent, indifferent, insensitive or too self-absorbed to heed the cries for help from those close around us? Do we perhaps have the attitude to let someone else intervene instead of us personally taking action? Lastly, are we like the Carpathia, and do we have a heightened awareness of, and alertness to, distress signals around us? Do we have a sense of urgency to go out of our way, no matter the inconvenience, to respond in big and small ways to ease the suffering of others? Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia didn’t hesitate by asking questions. He just took immediate action and responded to the Titanic’s repeated attempts to cry out for help, no matter the cost to him or his crew.
Whose painful SOS signals are we missing or ignoring in our everyday lives? We’ve got our reasons, don’t we? We’re too busy, we don’t want to get involved, we don’t want to be weighed down, or we don’t want to be inconvenienced. Philip Yancey expresses this in his book, Where is God When It Hurts? “Instinctively, I shrink back from people who are in pain. Who can know whether they want to talk about their predicament or not? Do they want to be consoled, or cheered up? What good can my presence possibly do? My mind spins out these rationalizations and as a result I end up doing the worst thing possible: I stay away.” How unbearable and excruciating it must have been for those on the Titanic and in the life boats, who saw the lights of the Californian that close and yet there was no response to their SOS calls for help.
Philip Yancey questions how important his presence could be, but Charles Swindoll states that the “presence of others is essential.” Dr. John Townsend in his book, Where is God?, defines presence as “the emotional ‘being there’ of others.” Later in the book Dr. Townsend says, “A burden shared is a light one. Conversely, I can’t think of anything worse than suffering through dark days alone. No one to ‘get it.’ No one to listen to me. And especially, no one to feel what I feel.” He continues, “We cannot feel hopeful that things will be OK unless someone understands what we are going through and gets it.”
SOS-MAYDAY-MAYDAY! Do you hear? Do you get it? And are you ‘present?’ Only you can control how responsive you are to the SOS of others in need.
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” Romans 15:1 NAS
If we were honest on a deep level, I think each of us could remember times that we felt the Lord prompting us to help someone but we squelched that inner voice and went on with our own agenda. The needs around us in our world can seem overwhelming, and we often are afraid to “get involved” because we don’t know how much time or resources will be required and we tend to avoid “open-ended” relationships where someone might need something at a time that is inconvenient to us. It is interesting that we want other people to help meet our own needs but we tend to look for more independent friends instead of “needy” people when we look for those with whom we wish to begin friendships.
I often talk with people who have been deeply hurt by those that they previously considered to be close friends, who dropped them like a hot potato when they had ongoing needs that might require extra time or patience from that friend. When someone we do not know has a pressing need, we tend to say to ourselves that “someone else will help them” and try to pretend to ourselves that we are not feeling convicted to be that someone.
Jesus Himself did not heal every person he saw who was ill or crippled but He did do the perfect will of His Father. He was in constant communication with His Father and obeyed the leading of His Father perfectly.
In Scripture, we see Jesus struggling with the human side of His incarnate nature by asking God the Father to “let this cup pass from Me” in the garden of Gethsemane. However, in the next breath, He said “Nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done.”
At all times, Jesus was willing to do the Father’s will. Can we say the same? Are we ourselves willing to do whatever God calls us to do?
In Romans 12:1-2, we are told to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to the Lord. If I am really a living sacrifice, I will be willing to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need to be aware that God is looking for a heart like Abraham’s. He doesn’t always ask us for the ultimate sacrifice, but He does ask that we be willing to make that sacrifice if He asks for it.
Are you listening for His voice?
Are you willing to obey when you hear it?
Prayer for the hurting person:
Please help this person who is hurting to be willing to send out the call for help. Help them to trust You enough to risk rejection from others and trust You to meet their needs. Let Your Holy Spirit convict those You have intentionally placed in their life to lift them up and encourage them. Rescue them today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer for the helper:
Please help me to be willing to be used by You. Help me to be watchful for those who may be in an SOS situation. Help me to not procrastinate when You speak to my heart but to instantly obey Your promptings. Help me to remember that I could be the person in need next time and to “do unto others as I would have them do unto me.”
In Jesus’ name, Amen.