It started out a beautiful summer day.
Clear blue sky. Ninety-degree temps. And the wide-open waters of Lake Mead, Nevada. The perfect day to do a little boating.
Early that morning, after breakfast was done, we packed up a cooler, beach towels and our 18-foot Ebbtide ski boat for a family day of play. For hours the kids tubed, the grown-ups skied, and none of us could stop smiling. It couldn’t have been better.
Until the sun disappeared. Clouds blew in. And in the span of what seemed like minutes, the day went from bright and sunny to dark and foreboding.
Immediately, we turned to make our way back to shore. But before we’d gone more than a hundred yards, the sky opened up. Winds howled, rain pummeled. The previously flat surface of the water became deep, white-capped swells. What followed over the next hour was terrifying, as my husband struggled to steer us to shore. I’ve been in boats most my life, and I’ve known a thunderstorm or two. But this time was different. I feared we’d capsize.
Not all that different than when The Unexpected overtakes an ordinary life.
Monday we launched Undone Life Together: A 5-week Conversation About the Unexpected Life. And for the past couple days we’ve been talking a lot about fear. What we’re most afraid of and how we react when fear hijacks our day.
I know a thing or two about fear. For years, fear has been my biggest foe. Not the broken marriage. Not the tough seasons of parenting. Not even the cancer. Fear was the source of my sleeplessness and the root of my deepest doubts. Like a storm that sneaks up and pounds, fear packed a powerful punch.
Thus, I’ve been frantically trying to find a cure. Exercise. Rest. Meditation. Truth statements. Medication. Essential oils. Counseling.
All brought some benefit, as I adopted healthy practices and learned to control my thoughts and responses. But they were incomplete. None provided a cure. Fear proved inescapable.
Then it occurred to me. Maybe fear isn’t the problem?
You see, I don’t think fear is necessarily a bad thing. Fear is a warning signal that forces us to pay attention. Fear sharpens our senses. It keeps a toddler from approaching a stranger and a child’s hand from reaching toward a flame. In many cases, fear exists because there’s good reason to be afraid. Granted, we worry about far more than we need to. But admit it: this life gives us good cause for fear. Divorce. Disease. Suicide. Financial collapse. Unscrupulous leaders. Addicted teenagers. Unethical businesses. Death.
Being human can be a scary thing, indeed.
But no matter how much time and money we spend trying to fight our fear, we’ll never run out of things to be afraid of. Bad things can (and will) happen. No essential oil can cure that.
So while these modern fear-fighting techniques are good, they’re incomplete.
Let’s go back to the boat for a minute. That storm on Lake Mead wasn’t apocalyptic. No hurricane or tornado. It was an thunderstorm. Complete with all the theatrics, yes, but not necessarily life-threatening. The real problem wasn’t the storm.
It was the size of our boat.
Our boat was far too small for the size of the storm. Thus, when the waves grew, we nearly went under.
As a result, we had to skill and strategize our way back to shore. A Plan B approach to a terrifying situation.
I don’t think unexpected storms are our problem. Nor fear. Death, disease, addiction, loss … those struggles have been around since the beginning of time. We are not the first people to experience such.
Our problem is we’ve settled for too-small boats. For too long we’ve leaned on human-constructed means of security and safety. We’ve settled for strategies, skills, temporary comforts, and modified expectations in an effort to create the happily-ever-after life. Then, when the unexpected hits, the peace dissipates and the fear swells.
When Jesus and a group of his friends found themselves in a similar storm, the friends panicked:
“We’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:24) Sounds a lot like me in a crisis.
Jesus’ response was pointed and simple. And it wasn’t about their fear or the storm:
“Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25)
Where is my faith? For too long it’s been in itty-bitty boats. In my ability to control my circumstances and modify my emotions. And then an ocean of guilt when I learned I can’t.
No more. I’m tired of making my life all about the storm. I want to make my life about Someone far bigger than the storm, and a boat big enough to weather it. Here’s how I’m building one:
- Develop a global awareness: All you have to do is spend a little time watching the vast sea of suffering around the world to realize you are not alone in yours. As awful as loss is, there is sweetness in the sharing of it.
- Search for deeper meaning: I want life to mean more than the next material comfort. I want my living to count for something more than temporal people, positions, and achievements. There is meaning beyond the immediate. I want to search ruthlessly for it.
- Foster an eternal perspective: If this life is all there is, than we have every reason to be terrified. If eternity is real—and it is!—then we have every reason to be overjoyed even when we cry.
- Believe in God’s personal love: This is the key for me. If I can develop a stronger belief in God’s true love and tenderness for me, then I can trust His presence and purposes even when I don’t understand the “why’s” of life.
- Experience Divine presence: Religion doesn’t cut it for me. A real God who shows up and comforts when I’m crying and whining and face-flat in fear? I’ll take me some of that.
- Commit to leveraging loss: I refuse to let the losses of my life count for nothing. Instead, I’m determined to use them to learn wisdom, compassion, empathy, and generosity. Loss doesn’t have to be loss. Loss can be gain.
I still fight fear, you know. I probably always will. But my goal is no longer to eliminate it, but to live secured in the middle of it.
When it comes to life’s storms, you and I can do very little to stop them. In fact, we couldn’t stop one if we tried.
But we can build bigger boats.
Which of these strategies for building a bigger boat most resonates with you?