You are swimming across a vast, dark lake. You are not a particularly strong swimmer. Not especially coordinated. Not going to be a lifeguard anytime soon. Struggle, struggle, pant, pant, struggle, flail, pant. Keep that head above water, at all costs. Keep air in your lungs. Look good, no matter what. Make it look easy above water, even if below you are kicking and dog paddling and treading like your life depends on it. Because it does.
All you want to see is the other side, to reach it, and rest; to rest from the struggle and be free from the dark water that drags and pulls at you all the time. Strangely enough, however, as long as you cannot see the other side, you can just keep struggling, thinking that at any minute, it will appear. Flagging always, but always summoning the strength to keep going. You were told–promised even–that there was another side to get to, so you choose to believe it.
Around you are other swimmers. Oh, they are beautiful. They push ahead, always ahead of you, sailing by with a beautiful backstroke, plunging along in a breaststroke, flashing past you freestyle. Occasionally someone floats peacefully past you on their back, and comments on how lovely the day is, and how blue is the sky. They don’t notice your frantic kicking. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe it embarasses them. In any case, you envy them. Whoever their instructor was, he was far better than yours. You feel profoundly deficient.
And then, suddenly, the other side comes into view. Lush, green, welcoming, it beckons. On the one hand, you are relieved that it exists at all. On the other hand, it’s farther away than you ever could have imagined. Realizing how much more effort it is going to take to reach it nearly sinks you right then and there. You were tired before; now you are exhausted. Frankly, what is the point? Giving up would be easier; embracing the cold dark water and sinking into oblivion takes on a new and frightening appeal.
It’s tiring, swimming like that.
It’s tiring, living like that.
Just last year, at the ripe old age of 44, the chaos and turmoil in my brain was named. The dark fear, the restless prowling loneliness, the unexplainable sorrow, the startling rage…all of it had a name. I was not alone, as I had so long believed. I was not the only one pretending to know how to swim. The other side came into view.
And it’s oh, so very far away. So much farther away than I expected. As long as I couldn’t see how much work it would take to get there, I could keep hoping that each morning I might wake up and just be different. Just be healed. Just be free. Just be…better. Chaos would be replaced by peace. Fury would be replaced with serenity. Sorrow replaced by joy. Loneliness replaced by…whatever replaces loneliness.
Turns out, there is a solution. There is a way to become a better swimmer, a way to make it to that distant shore, a way to struggle less, a way to even enjoy the journey, as all those better swimmers seem to be. It requires nothing but agony. Digging at sores that are imperfectly healed. Fractures that knitted together long ago into twisted and crippled forms need to be rebroken in order to be set properly. Opening dark places to peer inside, to face skeletal ghouls and drag them out into the light of day where they can explode and evaporate.
God, it hurts.
I don’t want to do it. I want to just keep crawling, dragging, and floundering along on my broken limbs because it is less painful than the healing will be. Why dig? Why plow up the past and release all the accumulated pus of long-gone ages of hurt? Why must I?
I don’t have to. I can ignore the process of healing, fume at God for not simply making it disappear, complain about the unfairness of it all, shake my fist at the heavens and rail. I could just decide to sink into delicious oblivion. I am terrified, and the sorrow threatens to overwhelm. I am desperate for courage.
And then, I hear it. The cheering. Faintly, but undeniably, there are shouts of encouragement on the air. Coming from the other side. They bolster my resolve, and I kick once more.
And then, a friendly voice beside me, exhorting me to endure. An arm around my chest in lifeguard fashion, turning me so that I can be carried for just a moment. Around me are better, stronger swimmers, and they are stopping their race in order to support and instruct. I take a breath, relax my weary muscles, and let them take the weight. It’s also hard, this letting go, this admitting that I’m not going to make it, that I need help. It chafes. I have to restrain myself from shaking them off and angrily sending them away. How dare they see my imperfections?
But I don’t. I listen. I try to copy their motions, to learn from them. They had better lessons. They can teach me. Maybe it doesn’t have to be all struggle. Maybe I too can catch a glimpse of sky now and then, and realize that there are birds singing and dragonflies buzzing. Maybe it can be something beautiful, this swimming.
Maybe I can learn to float, to gather strength for each new push forward.
And I recognize that God’s healing isn’t so much in a flash of explosive drama, but in the sending of help. He wants us to need each other. He wants us to reach out. He wants us to stop crushing one another in the eager stampede to reach the finish line and instead bend down to lift the trampled and injured. Reaching the other side first is not the goal. This race has room for more than one winner. In fact, I suspect that those who climb onto that other shore with glowing good looks and triumphant strength because their first concern was themselves will be told to take a number rather than a trophy.
Those who come, however, bedraggled and half-drowned, in twos and threes and fours, weary and waterlogged, groups of friends who refused to let one another sink…there will be hands there, raising them to their feet. There will be claps on the back and warm blankets and hot cocoa and feasting. And tears. So many tears of gratitude and joy for victory over hurts long endured.
Look around. We’re everywhere. The drowing, the struggling, the aching and sinking ones. Are you whole, and healed? If you are, you were not given such wholeness to enable you to fly past and arrive first.
To those who stop, and assist, and extend oh, so much grace! You know who you are. You keep me going. You give me hope. You model Christ. And you teach me to float, to hear the birds, to see the blue.
Thank you for showing me the sky.
1 Thessalonians 5:14