One of the reasons I try my very best to stay away from large, expansive bodies of water is my completely rational fear of drowning. I have no shame in admitting this lol. There is something unstable and unpredictable about water as a force of nature – and a force that is uncontrollable is generally one that I want no part of.

At the same time, having lived long enough, I know that the fear of drowning is not restricted to situations that involve bodies of water. Life itself can prove to be an even greater expanse with its own threats of going under. It is not at all uncommon to find ourselves overwhelmed and gasping for air as life’s many waves crash over us: bills, family crises, bad relationships, bad choices, job demands and hurting hearts, just to name a few.

So how do you survive drowning? How do make it back to shore when all of life’s many waves keep pulling you under and there is no sign of help, no buoy in sight?

Thinking about it takes me back to one of the nights when the disciples encountered the threat of drowning. Jesus had sent them off by themselves to Bethsaida while he climbed a mountain to pray:

Late at night, the boat was far out at sea; Jesus was still by himself on land. He could see his men struggling with the oars, the wind having come up against them. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. He intended to go right by them. 

This passage always makes me laugh. Jesus had no intention of calming the storm. He saw them struggling late at night, and didn’t even move from where he was till 4am – and even when he did move, his intention was to move past them. Jesus knew the storm was coming before it hit, and yet left them under the threat of drowning.

I believe Jesus left them where they were because he had the disciples exactly where he wanted them to be – in over their heads.

We are so used to being the captains of our own ships – knowing where we’re headed and how we want to get there. We have our courses clearly outlined with all the pitstops for provision and other plans mapped out. How much we want to make by 30, the type of person we want to marry, where we want to go to school, what career path we’ll take, where we’ll live… And then a storm rolls in and all our maps and plans are thrown overboard along with us. And we wrestle against the waves trying to make it back to our boats of security, or to some shore or the other.

All the while God watches. Like with the disciples, he never takes his eye off of us. But He waits, because it’s when we have completely lost control of our own devices and plans that He’s able to come in and take control. It’s when we are so far out from our shores of comfort – from people and money and all the other things we take stability from – when we are completely underwater, that we become solely dependent on Him, and where He becomes our only source of stability and direction.

I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world, but having been required to pass a swim test in order to graduate university, I’ve learnt a couple things about what to do under the threat of drowning.

  1. Don’t panic. Our bodies are naturally buoyant, and have the ability to rise to the surface under threats of drowning. It is panicking and not breathing that causes our heads to consistently go under. There is a reason God instructs us over and over again not to fear and to be bold and courageous. He understands that fear has the ability to pull us even further into the messes we find ourselves in. So while you can’t see the shore in sight and you have no idea how you’re going to get out of the situation, just take a deep breath – you were not created to drown.
  2. Don’t fight it. When drowning, the natural inclination is to swim back to shore or to our safety boats – but this is hard to do when the waves are crashing over you and dragging you in the opposite direction. In fact, you are more likely to drown trying to fight the waves than you are simply going along with them. If the waves themselves don’t drag you under as you try to push against them, the exhaustion of having to fight them eventually will. Sometimes storms come into our lives to redirect us when we have gone off course, and fighting that redirection is only going to leave you exhausted and in worse shape than before. Go with the flow. For all you know, the waves are taking you to shore – a good shore – all the while you are fighting against them.
  3. Keep your eyes up. Part of staying afloat in water is the ability to keep your lungs aerated. You can’t do that if you’re faced downwards or looking at the waves all around you. Focusing on your circumstances only increases the chances of drowning. When we find ourselves in life-drowning situations, we have to keep our eyes focused upward and on God – it is the only way to keep ourselves afloat until Jesus walks in and lifts us out of our waves and leads us to good, dry land.

It’s hard to think anything good of situations where life begins to drown you, but I have come to the point where I sense a type of beauty in it. Now when I find myself blown away from shore and gasping for air in whatever area in my life, I stop, breathe, look up, and recognize my situation for what it really is – an opportunity to lose control so God can take control for me. Because in all honesty, giving God control of my vessel doesn’t come naturally for me – in fact it goes against every fiber of my very controlling behavior. But when I am out at sea all alone with nothing and no one to cling to, I suddenly remember to be fully reliant on Him. Suddenly out of control, I return to a place of centering where I can boldly say, ‘Not my will Lord, but Yours’.

It reminds me of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:

He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected[and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me. So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].

I can trust that the One who the winds and waves obey will never let them take me under, and will carry me to a good place.