I was walking through the wilderness. I tripped a couple of times and got hurt, no biggie. Then, I heard a noise that scared me so I started to jog. I stubbed my toes on the branches and scraped my arms on the trees as I went by. The noise was getting louder so I started to run. As I ran, I started to get tired and each of the little scrapes I had were getting sore. I started to run as fast as I could and lost track of where I was going. All I knew was I was going fast and I was going far. I had to get away from this thing. As my body was starting to give up on me, I came to a body of water. “Great,” I thought, “I know how to swim and I can hide here!” I dove into the water like I had so many times before. This time it was different, because I was exhausted and fighting for my life. In a panic, I forgot all of the swimming techniques I had learned in years past and just started throwing my arms and legs around in a desperate attempt to catch my breath.
As a child, I was trying to find my way through a world I knew nothing about. In the midst of this, I tripped and fell as most children do. We burn our finger, we scrape our knees, we get in trouble for lying. But then the small scrapes started to turn into gashes as life as I knew it – fell apart. Feelings of isolation and fear of the unknown were cutting me. Things like yelling, fighting and divorce left me bleeding. The loud sound of “what are you going to do?” kept getting louder and louder, so I ran faster. I ran as fast as I could to the first thing that made me feel safe. Alcohol. Despite the numbing, the sound kept ringing in my ears, “You don’t know where you’re going.”
My first relationship appeared as a big body of water. I thought, “Great! I know how to do this, and I can hide.” I dove in. Turns out, I was so exhausted and mentally drained that I started flinging my arms and legs around, just trying to stay afloat. I forgot everything I had learned in the past, such as: put others first, stay faithful, set boundaries. I was moving left and right, up and down, but all it was doing was making me drown even faster. In between betrayal, black outs, abuse, and silent cries for help…..I could barely catch my breath.
There is a survival float in swimming called the “Dead Man’s Float” or the “Jellyfish.” The first time I was introduced to this float, was in middle school swim class. It is meant to be used when someone is trapped in a large body of water or has run out of energy to get to shore. In the midst of struggle and panic, the person is asked to float facing down and dangle their limbs. Slowly turning their face sideways, they draw a breath and hold it underwater until they need another breath. The idea is to remain calm, relax, and conserve energy (and oxygen) until someone comes to the aid of the swimmer or until they have renewed energy and can swim to shore.
While mastering this skill in swim class, I remember the instructor telling us that the more we fought it, the harder it would be. It was important to fully relax and just float. If we tried to come upright again, we would have to move in order to stay afloat. It was when we were horizontal that we were able to float without effort. It’s hard to do much but relax when we are horizontal, right? This exercise not only relaxes your body, but your mind as well.
I came to the point where I was forced to choose….continue fighting and sink to the bottom or relax into God and find life again. I married a wonderful man who accepted me exactly how I was but this is not what saved me. In fact, we continued to struggle with jobs, finances and connection. We were drowning.
It wasn’t until we came together, made a decision to change and trusted God – that things started to look up. We said, “Ok, God. I’ll rest in you. Even in the middle of the deep waters, exhausted and fighting for our lives – we will rest in you.” We moved across the country, far away from everything we ever knew and trusted that God had a plan.
Now we are resting. We are catching our breath. Two years later, we are building our energy stores back up. We are building our strength in order to swim ashore and live the life God has designed for us. Through connection, church family, godly friendships, transparency and surrender…..we are resting and restoring our strength. It goes against our instincts to fight, to blame, to hide, to numb. In order to rest, fully rest, we have to do something we’ve rarely done. Stop, and do the hard things like admit things, ask forgiveness, give forgiveness, listen, learn, be open, be raw and transparent and face all of the terrifying things that have haunted us.
How many of us are running? Overworking, numbing out on social media and netflix, hiding behind our busy schedules and fake smiles? We run and run until we find ourselves in deep water. Maybe something hits us like the shock of cold water or maybe we suddenly feel the overwhelming pressure of water pushing down on us. No matter what brought us to this place of drowning, all we know is we have to do something.
I believe our first reaction may be to panic. We just want to catch our breath and stay above water. As you probably know, when we panic we actually continue to sink more. It’s when we find our calm and move slowly that we are able to see things more clearly. If we can bring ourselves to float and just let the weight dangle, we can focus our mind on what’s important. If we can slowly draw in a deep breath and just relax, our body and mind can start to restore energy levels. If we make time for hobbies, quiet time, screen free time, fellowship, boredom, and most of all – time with the Lord…..we will hear things we have never heard and see things we have never seen. We may still be in the water, but it is no longer drowning us.
When life throws finances, marriage, children, work, school, friends, tragedy, loss, and heartbreak at us……we kind of tend to panic. We are just trying to survive; throwing our limbs about trying to stay afloat. The whole time, we are just using up our valuable energy and sinking even further. Maybe God throws us in the water to slow us down.
After all, the transformation of the butterfly happens in the cocoon.