Over My Head
God is our refuge and strength, a [well proved] help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling… “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
– Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11
Sometimes it takes something as ironic as an overhead wave to remind me that I’m in over my head. Most of the time I’m in over my head.
Nearly two weeks ago I was in Fiji, sitting in triple-overhead swell. For those of you who don’t speak surfer, those are waves 3 times as tall as me (I’m almost 6’4… so, let’s just say they were somewhere in the ballpark of 20′ waves). These are the largest waves I’ve ever seen, much less paddled around in. Long story short, I didn’t catch anything out there that day. On the contrary, I spent my moments of being tossed around like a rag doll underneath the peeling giants debating whether or not I would escape with my life.
While underwater I remember musing to myself:
“I wonder what reef feels like.”
“I wonder if I’ll make it out of these waves alive.”
“I wonder which way is up.”
Three waves in a row, the 3rd one being the worst. You can see my board “tombstoning,” which means I was so deep underwater that my 9′ leash was pulled tight and my board was bobbing straight up and down on the surface for a few seconds. Ironically, the very things going through my mind at that point in time were about my survival.
I haves faced my death several times. I haven’t always been afraid of it. This time I definitely feared the consequences of being over my head. I knew what I had to do to push through and survive, but would I be able to? I was dealing with something much greater than myself, something I couldn’t control, and it was scary. Of course I went in again (if you know me, this won’t surprise you too much), which nearly ended in disaster a second time. If you don’t know how to pray, hop into a triple-overhead reef break. No instruction necessary, prayer comes naturally.
When I finally got out of there I was relieved to say the least, but also amazed. I sat along the edge of the reef break and watched in awe for about 25 minutes as set after set of monsters pounded the reef. It was too big for me. Admitting that is hard for so much of us. We think we have a handle on life. We fail to control our circumstances, and even amidst this telling failure we still paddle in for a second pounding… a pounding that could very well cost us our lives.
Healing comes out of honesty. It comes by admitting that we are not God. We can’t handle everything life throws at us. Too often I find myself sitting there trying to hold everything together. I try to surf waves I can’t handle.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
We can read passages like this and believe that God is God, but to know, that he is God takes experience. Evangelism Explosion uses the illustration of a chair to explain faith. You can believe a chair will hold your weight all you want, but it’s not until you sit in it that you know it actually will. For the great majority of us, we won’t learn that God is bigger than the waves, that he has the power to save us from them, much less that we can’t handle them until we’ve been in the middle of them ourselves.
The most nightmarish times of my life are the ones I treasure the most. When I look back I see where Jesus was. He was with me in those times, whether I could sense him at the time or not. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that to be still means to stop thrashing around. I often fear the consequences of giving up, of admitting I can’t hold it together. What will people think of me? Will I make it out alive?
Something crazy happened after the third wave of that monster set. I popped out of the foam and I was in the clear. It may just have been the current, but it was the point where I decided I needed to get out. I admitted my inability to handle the waves and realized that I needed God to bail me out, yet again. Humiliating? Yeah. No one wants to admit they can’t do something. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t surf those waves, though anyone who’s seen me surf would have told me that in a second.
In times those times of distress we often ask ourselves the question, “What am I going to do about it?” That question doesn’t take into account my inability to do rectify things. It foolishly assumes that there’s something in me that can handle this, if only I could find it. When you see a 20′ set rolling in on your head, it’s pretty easy to see that you’re screwed. Again, anyone who has seen me surf would tell me before I even paddle out that I was in over my head. But it’s not until you’re in the place of losing your life that these things become apparent.
Likewise, we often turn a deaf ear to the warnings of others—heck, we turn a deaf ear to the warnings of ourselves. We choose ignorance over reality. We swallow the blue pill, telling ourselves we can handle it. The waves get out of control, we cry for help, get out somehow, then paddle right back into the lineup. What we need is repentance. Repentance is generally seen in the light of feeling bad about ourselves, but it’s not what repentance is. Repentance in the Bible is defined as either turning, or changing one’s mind. So, when we get the command to repent, Jesus is saying, “turn away from what you’re doing,” or “change your thinking.” In my case, repentance means turning my board and paddling out of the killer lineup, or changing my mind about what size waves I’m capable of surfing.
Changing my mind and paddling out of the impact zone could save my life. I’d be a fool to go right back into it. For some reason, we do these things over and over again. It’s not until we lose, or on the verge of losing everything, that we begin to take these things seriously. We’re going to get in over our heads at some point, it’s not about avoiding it all together, it’s about dealing with reality. When we get in over our heads, who do we turn to? Ourselves?