Last weekend I had a terrifying experience with panic and water. I decided to swim a good distance out into the ocean where I thought there was a sandbar. I saw 4 kids pretty far out and I assumed they were standing on a sandbar. They were coming back in and I was swimming out past them and the water kept getting deeper. I would push myself down to see how deep it was and when I got to about 9 feet, I concluded there might not actually be a sandbar in the direction I was swimming.
Here was my problem, I was already exhausted. Normally, when I am in the ocean I have a board and fins so I can swim fast and I can float easily. This time I had neither and was very far from shore. My other problem was I began to panic so reality was distorted. My arms were burning my heart was racing and I was contemplating screaming for my life to my friends on shore. But honestly I was so far out I felt like they would not get to me in time.
I’m writing this so I didn’t drown. I kept swimming while praying and thinking about how this would be a terrible way to go. Occasionally I would check to see if I could touch the bottom. My depth perception also did not seem to allow me to believe I was getting any closer to shore. So I swam and treaded and panicked some more wondering if I was being carried further out. But then as I swam and swam I put my foot under and about a foot lower than my body was the ground and I realized I had made progress towards shore.
So I swam a little more and hyper ventillated while I stood on solid ground with my head above water. No waves, no wind just water and ground and my terrified mind.
I know someone who drowned once. It was a surreal terrifying tragic experience. It was surreal because I felt the Lord had woken me up one morning during college to urgently pray from Psalm 18 that He lifts me out of deep waters not knowing why. I got a call later that morning from my friend Gabe which I missed and the Lord told me to intercede so I prayed until I got a hold of him. As it would turn out, on a canoe trip one of their friends whom I did not know so well drowned in the cold water after the canoe tipped over. Gabe, my friend Anthony and his brother, all of which I knew for most of my childhood survived. We had planned to canoe to this island and camp there. I remember I was planning to join them when we talked about it when I was home on break.
Drowning is scary to think about. Nobody drowns without a fight. But also we don’t drown unless we are in over our heads.
The last two years have felt like this. I feel I am in over my head barely catching my breath. Teaching has felt like this, church has felt like this, relationships have felt like this, life and death has felt like this. Though I feel I have developed endurance. In some cruel and sick way, I feel like I can get used to feeling like I’m drowning, like I’m barely breathing at all times. Sometimes I foolishly believe that it will feel like a leisurely swim, Like I will be able to just enjoy myself on the water. Literally that has happened. I have enjoyed time on the water with my board.
Metaphorically, I feel like the water has lured me in time and time again, and the water itself can seem pretty calm and serene, but it gets deep or all of a sudden I feel like somebody has loaded me down with a ton of weight and said “hold this while you’re barely keeping yourself above the surface.”
And then panic sets in, every sunday at 3 pm, I feel anxiety. Every time I feel rejection from the same places, every time I hope things will get better. In addition, every lame aphorism or cheap optimism that suggests I should fake it until things get better or until I change has proved a vain help.
And the truth is, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a better alternative. I don’t even know what brings healing. It honestly often feels like the best that can be done is to accept that these broken things might never be fixed. Where is the God who lifts me out of deep waters?
Would you lift me? Please, I’m not trying to stay in this place where I cannot breathe anymore. I need a wide place, an open pasture, a place where my body and mind and soul can find a rest that woud be lasting, like a month to breathe, to work yes, but also rest, to love and be loved. To delight in something good.
I don’t want to drown or even fear the threat of drowning. I want a tangible hope and peace and joy that doesn’t come with feeling choked by thorns and thistles or pain and sorrow or emotional and mental trauma.
I want to be led beside still waters rather than in deep water with my head sunk, gasping for air.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.”