Life is going to hurt.
Growing up, we lived on a hill just above the Ohio River. My dad always had a pontoon boat somewhere, and we would go out on the river. To this day, I can tell you the best places to fish and swim on the Illinois border. I loved to lay down on my stomach at the front of the boat and watch the water jet by beneath me. My childhood memories are full dysfunction and turmoil, but those parts of my life did not exist when I was on the water.
Early one morning when I was about eleven, I left with my dad and brother to go fishing. We loaded up, got the boat hitched to the truck, and headed down to the ramp. It was the same as any other time we’d gone, and I was in my usual spot at the front. I can remember being in a wide open area of water, but my dad would steer around all over the place before really picking up speed. The spiral path he took was because he knew where every rock and log was, and what direction to go so we would avoid hitting anything. My dad was a bona fide Magellan.
On this day, my dad wasn’t Magellan like a fellan. It happened so fast that you wouldn’t have even seen it if you blinked at a bad time. Suddenly, the boat launched into the air like Titanic before the final plunge, and all three of us were thrown into the water.
The Bible doesn’t say “if” you have troubles, or “if” you will face trials. It says that in this world, you WILL have trouble. And we’re not talking about losing your car keys, or dropping your phone in the toilet, or facing difficult customers at work, or getting the flu. When I say “trouble,” we’re talking big stuff. We’re talking life-shaking, heart-shattering, mind-wrecking stuff that leaves you bleeding. We’re talking stuff that makes you question the love of a loving Father, and the power of an omnipotent God.
Life. Will. Hurt.
We are all constantly in one of two places in our lives. Either we are in the middle of deep, deep trouble, or we are rapidly approaching trouble. It will come. And when it comes, it will throw you overboard in an instant.
None of us were wearing life jackets. And except for maybe a doggie paddle in shallow water, I couldn’t swim. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because we couldn’t tell which way was up. I didn’t know if I was floating up or swimming deeper down. You couldn’t see the light of day. Even Michael Phelps would have been in trouble. No amount of swimming skill could have helped.
Everything was dark and clouded. I couldn’t see or feel anything but the water. I was flailing my arms frantically trying to find the surface, knowing I was running out of air and time. People say when you’re drowning, the pain and panic stops once you “breathe” and water fills your lungs. But even when I thought I’d reached the end and tried to breathe, it felt like my throat was just closed off completely.
It was a 50/50 shot that I was swimming upwards. God tipped the scale just enough that, somehow, I’d chosen the right direction. After all that trauma, you’d think once we found the surface, it’d be over. Right? No… Because now, the waves are keeping you from staying above the water. And you have just enough time in between waves to gasp for air before you go back under. You don’t feel like you’re getting enough air before you’re cut off again. My strength was failing.
My dad and brother reached the surface before I did. And they both say that for whatever reason, the boat just seemed to turn itself around and come back towards us. It was going slow enough that my dad could catch it. He got my brother into the boat, and then himself. Before I knew the boat was anywhere near me, I realized another wave was coming. And I gave up. It was right then, as I was preparing for what I knew would be the last wave, I felt myself being lifted out of the water by my dad.
I know what it feels like, emotionally and physically, to drown. I know… And I have found myself in my own life crying out to God, gasping for air as the waves kept taking me under. In the anguish, in the agony, in the exhaustion, I cried out to God and said, “I can’t do this. Lord, I don’t have the strength to keep swimming. I can’t breathe. I can’t fight. I don’t know which way is up, and I am drowning here. I keep getting beaten down by wave after wave after wave, and I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take one more wave. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. And if You don’t do something, I am going to die.”
My circumstances haven’t changed. The things in my life that have caused me so much pain and disgrace are still there. God can, and sometimes does, pull you out of the water. Not always… But there will be a final wave. And if you will give it to God, I promise you, He will use that wave to carry you to His shores. And on those shores, you will find rest.
Wherever you are tonight, whatever circumstances in life that are threatening to take you out, know this… That there is a God who loves you. He is not blind to your pain, or deaf to your cries. He is, and will be, an ever-present help in times of trouble. And He will give you enough breath to go just a little more. Then when that’s gone, He will give you another breath. And when that’s gone, another. And another. And another. And whether He pulls you out of the water or delivers you ashore, know that there is NOTHING He won’t do to bring you home.