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Drowning People Can't Cry for Help

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, every day about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S. But there's at least one huge misconception about drowning: Many people assume that a drowning person will splash, yell, and wave for help. Wouldn't you? And isn't that what's often portrayed on movies and TV?

Actually, drowning is far from obvious. A report from The Journal of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue has identified the "Instinctive Drowning Response." When someone is drowning, the person will instinctively display the following five characteristics:

  1. Except in rare cases, drowning people are physically unable to call for help. That's because we're designed to breathe first and speak later.
  2. Drowning people can't stay above the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call for help.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. They are forced to extend their arms laterally and press down on the waters' surface.
  4. Drowning people cannot voluntarily move toward a rescuer or reach out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water for 20 to 60 seconds before sinking.

The Coast Guard emphasizes that the Instinctive Drowning Response is triggered by a host of autonomic nervous system responses. In other words, it is completely involuntary, unlearned, and unavoidable.

Possible Preaching Angles: (1) Compassion; Evangelism—Those who are "drowning" emotionally, relationally, financially, or spiritually have a similar Instinctive Drowning Response. In other words, they often do not know how to cry for help, and unless rescued by another, they will continue to sink. (2) Our need for salvation—We are helpless to save ourselves. Our salvation has to come from Christ's intervention.

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