Caught in the Current

I have always enjoyed the beach, the sea. But as I’ve grown older, in these past few years, it seems like the sea has become more awe-inspiring to me, and every time I travel to visit it, I find some new blessing in the waters.

But I have a friend who loves the ocean even more than I do.

Even with all the fear I have in my heart for watery danger – be it getting lost in the vastness, beaten on the sandy bottom by endless waves, drowning, and even my extremely unrealistic fear of being eaten alive or having a limb shorn off by a shark’s jaw – I can’t ever persuade him to put in a little extra effort to stay safe when he’s in the water.

He would come back to shore, to where I was perched on my little towel dry as can be, and would sit next to me, all smiles from the excitement he had battling and riding the swells and crashes.

And then, almost ritualistically because of how often this happened, he would roll his eyes and laugh at the obvious worried look in my eyes, at the thin disapproving line of my mouth when he showed me a scrape or a cut, at the nervous chewing of the inside of my lip when he tells me he nearly got caught in a rip tide out there.

Rip tides, that’s the stuff I don’t like to hear.

He would laugh, pat my knee, settle in to soak in the sun.

But it would stick in my head even though I knew he was joking.

Rip tides.

In a scientific sense, rip tides are narrow but strong and steady streams of water running perpendicular to shore – that is, straight out into the ocean. Actually in a scientific sense, they’t not even tides, they’re currents. But regardless of the name, rip tides travel along the surface of the water and can sweep you rapidly out into the ocean, and you usually don’t know there’s a rip tide near you until you’re in it.

Readers, I think of the sea when I think of God.

Or maybe when I think of God I think of the sea.

Regardless, every time I visit the ocean I am presented with some new morsel of wisdom from the deep, as clearly as if it were written in the sand.

This time I’ve gotten to thinking of rip tides.

Sometimes, it feels as if I’m caught in a rip tide, being tugged from safety straight out into the unknown.

Perhaps I was caught in the rip tide first. Perhaps I swam out to sea to save someone else who is caught and got caught myself.

Either way, this college, this culture, this world, this life, it’s a rip tide.

It’s dangerous.

It’s exhausting to fight, and eventually every swimmer is going to be worn out and tired. And when we’re tired, we stop swimming.

When we stop swimming, we drown.

The interesting thing about rip tides is that they’re so unpredictable. Swift, powerful, dangerous, potentially invisible if you don’t know what to look for, and pretty difficult to get out of.

My friend tells me that you know you’re in one but you can’t get out, it’s frustrating and terrifying. You try your hardest to get out but you just can’t, and all the effort you’re putting forth is pointless and just drains you of energy.

This culture, this world, this life, it’s a rip tide.

It tugs you from safety, straight out into the unknown.

Worst part is, a lot of people don’t make it.

How do we get out of these situations, these figurative rip tides, in our lives?

They could be anything – a week packed with assignments and appointments and forgotten keys and spilled coffees and broken printers, a break up or a big fight with someone close to you. A lot of money going out and not a lot coming in. Perhaps you’re just simply in a low place emotionally, or you’re just tired but too swamped to take a break. The kids, the spouse, the in-law, the roommate, the dog, the best friend, the professor, the boss.

It might seem like the best thing – read, the only thing – to do is simply to fight the rip tide, and if that doesn’t work, well, that means you’re just not good enough at fighting. It’s discouraging when you put all your effort and time and energy into fighting something that only ends up beating you.

“[In a rip tide,] your first instinct may be to swim against the current, back to shallow waters. In most cases, even if you’re a strong swimmer, this will only wear you out. The current is too strong to fight head-on.” (Read.)

How can we survive a rip tide, a strong rush of water that catapults us away from the beach and into deeper waters?

In other words, how do we survive an impossible situation, one that rips us from our comfy cozy complacent lives and pushes us into deeper suffering?

Friends, this is what it all comes down to. This is what I’ve been dying to discover the answer to since I began to tire of treading water and began to sink.

This isn’t about enjoying my swim anymore.

This is about surviving. And sometimes, I don’t know how to do it.

It’s exhausting to fight, and eventually every swimmer is going to be worn out and tired. And when we’re tired, we stop swimming.

When we stop swimming, we drown.

Or do we?

Swimmers, surfers, and beach goers are warned that in the event of a rip tide, the worst thing to do is attempt to swim against it.

So it seems like there is no other option, we really do drown. But let’s ponder together, dear readers, another solution.

There is something you can do. Sometimes you can’t fight, but just because you can’t fight doesn’t mean you can’t survive.

Keep your head over the water. Keep calm. Tread water. Wait.

And then what do you do? You swim sideways. You find the steady current of the ocean, and you swim into it, and you let the current carry you out of the rip tide.

When my friend told me to swim sideways into the current, I was a tad incredulous. “Why,” I asked. “Is the current moving sideways too?”

“Of course. Think of all the times you’ve been in the ocean. You always end up a little further down the beach than you started, didn’t you. The current moves sideways.”

“Well,” I posited. “How hard is it to find the current when you’re stuck in a rip tide?” Surely when you’re thrashing about, you won’t have the time to seek out water that’s moving in a separate direction.

“Swim sideways and you’ll find it. The current is always there, you don’t have to look for it.”

I repeated this sentence to myself, tasting the words to squeeze the hidden meaning out of them like juice, letting my friend’s comprehension of the matter sink in – though he was unsuspecting of his own sagacity, not knowing that he just lit upon the grain of truth I’ve been hunting for.

The current is always there, you don’t have to look for it.

At last! I’ve found my morsel of wisdom burbling up from the deep, like a shiny pearl spit out from a cracked, grey oyster.

Even in the rip tides, even in the danger, even when a powerful angry force is pushing against you, there is still a steady and peaceful current underneath.

Rip tides are superficial. They don’t suck you under because the energy travels on top of the surface of the water. Rip tides end as suddenly as they start. Rip tides are spontaneous and unpredictable.

The current, though, that’s deep. That’s overwhelming, satisfying, constant, a resounding thrum that moves the waves and sustains the life of the ocean. The current is forever.

The current.

The sea.

God.

It is astutely obvious to me after ruminating on this subject for so long – for as long as I’ve been in a rip tide of my own – that the best way out is to throw myself body and soul into the current, into my faith.

Sometimes I can’t fight, but just because I can’t fight doesn’t mean I can’t survive.

So I try to keep my head over the water. I keep calm. I tread water. I wait.

And then what do I do? I swim sideways. I find the steady current of my faith, and I swim into it, and I let the current carry me out of the rip tide.

This same current is running underneath of the surface, difficult to see but easy to experience. This current moves you and buoys you, splashes you and kisses you, this current pushes air past gills. This current pulls you into the water’s embrace, lifts shiny shell gifts from the deep to gleeful treasure seekers, carries away messages and memories and skipping rocks.

This current sustains.

He sustains.

This current saves.

He saves.

The current.

The sea.

God.

Keep your head up. Keep calm. Tread water. Wait.

Swim into the current, and let the current carry you to safety.

You might end up in a different spot on the beach, but you’ll end up in safety.

These rip tides could be anything. This constant fighting against a faithless world, against a faithless culture on a faithless college with faithless friends, this is my rip tide.

But this rip tide will end as suddenly as it began.

This rip tide will wash off the surface and dissolve, this rip tide may take others but it will not claim me.

The current, that’s timeless. It’s saving. It’s ever-present.

It’s God.

There’s my morsel of wisdom from the deep, as clear as if it were written in the sand.

The current.

The sea.

God.

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