Last week on New Year’s Eve, when most of the country was drinking and socializing with friends, I was home alone in my pajamas, in bed by 10 o’clock. I’ve spent several New Year’s Eves this way, thanks to my husband’s job. It doesn’t bother me, really. I’m not the type of person who needs to be doing what “everyone else” is doing, and I don’t really buy into the hype over the ringing in of a new year anyway. Along those lines, I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, either. While everyone else is making promises they aren’t likely to keep, I’m thinking mostly about how I can continue simply keeping my head above water in a life in which I often feel as though I am drowning. However, through no intentional reflection or effort to come up with it on my part, a word for the new year was written on my heart by the Lord in the last week or so. Apparently it’s a “thing” among some people to come up with a word for the year which reflects a goal or a theme for their life. But I didn’t come up with this word on purpose. And I didn’t realize until just this moment how it tied into that feeling of drowning and that need to stay above water.
The word is surrender.
I’ve heard it said many times before that if you ever feel like you are going to drown, the first rule is DON’T PANIC. Don’t fight against the water and gasp for air. Relax. Try to float. Take intentional breaths so that you can stay buoyant. The more you panic and fight, the more precious energy and oxygen you will use up, and the worse position you will be in. If you can relax, keep taking measured breaths, and get horizontal- on your back- you can survive, especially if help is on the way. You have to, in a sense, surrender to what is happening to you, surrender to the water. But that surrendering cannot be a complete giving up and giving in, letting the water overtake and conquer you. It’s more rational and courageous than that – a choice to work with the water instead of fighting against it.
Of course, that is all easier said than done. That’s because we can’t stand that loss of control as the water asserts its power over us. The need to be in control is so very human, and I know it well.
I’m a control freak and worrier by nature. I’ve written before about how difficult it is to trust in and wait on God’s timing because of these traits. It’s also difficult for me just to live in the day-to-day chaos of my life. When the kids are behaving badly, I want them to stop RIGHT NOW. When something doesn’t go the way I was expecting, I get angry when I can’t fix it to make it more like what I wanted. I feel like I’m drowning all the time because I’m fighting against the life that I’m living. I’m fighting against the waves of noisiness, whining, disobedience, my husband’s unexpected delays at work, the never-ending chore list, the well-laid plans going awry, etc. etc. And when I get tired of fighting, I just want to give up and let those waves overtake me.
But what if I rested in the water instead? If I stopped fighting it, stopped gasping for air, and grasping for control? If I let that deep, scary, powerful water of my life hold me up instead of letting it pull me down? I’d have to give up some of my sense (my illusion!) of control. It would be hard. I would have to resist something innate in me, like one must resist that human tendency to panic and struggle when they are in a literal drowning situation. It could be done, though. And it would be so much easier if I could keep my mind on the fact that my Help is on the way… keep my eye on my Deliverer, who only wants what is best for me, and will not let me be overcome. The One who walks on water and calms the raging sea is always reaching out to me, trying to save me.
This is where my metaphor starts to fall apart, though. A reasonable person would welcome the intervention of the rescuer. Yet, it is so often that I push God away and resist His loving embrace. It’s all part of that need to hold onto the illusion of control. I want to do it on my own. I think my plans are better than His. His way so often requires me to pick up a cross and suffer, and I pretend that my way means I can avoid that. The truth is, we can’t avoid those crosses in life, and when we try to carry them alone, we will be crushed under their weight.
God wants me to surrender to Him, my hope and my help. He wants me to stop worrying, stop trying to control, and to simply trust that He has me in His arms – no matter how deep the water is or how high the waves are.
This year my husband will switch shifts to one that leaves me alone to handle the chaos of dinner and bedtime with the kids. I will also (God willing) give birth to my fourth baby in late spring. Comedian Jim Gaffigan says that having a fourth baby is like, “you’re drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.” It’s apparent that this word surrender could not have come to me at a better time.
“Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold. I have gone down into the watery depths, the flood overwhelms me…. Rescue me from the mire; do not let me sink. Rescue me from my enemies and the watery depths. Do not let the floodwaters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me, nor the mouth of the pit close over me. Answer me, Lord, in you generous love; in your great mercy turn to me.” – Psalm 69:2-3, 15-17