I’m at the beach for a few days with my family and my in-laws, and I must say, it is quite lovely! Mid-eighties temps, mid-sixties humidity, blue skies, and an indoor/outdoor pool for when we feel like getting wet and cooling off but don’t want to bother with slathering ourselves with sunscreen! 🙂 And perhaps best of all, our kids are old enough and comfortable enough in the water that having them out in the waves, jumping and splashing around by themselves no longer sends me to the brink of panic!! Their father and/or I, along with one or both grandparents, still keep a very watchful eye over them, but no one has to be right at their side (either for their comfort or mine!), gripping their hands lest the next big wave sweep them away!
They do still have to be reminded to be aware, though. To be aware, when they’re in the water, of where the shore is, so they don’t unknowingly get out further than is safe. To be aware of where “our spot” on the beach is, so they don’t end up twelve miles “downstream” before they realize they don’t know where they are. To be aware of the undertow that silently and sometimes without their even knowing it, pushes and pulls against them, and moves them to a place of danger, or at least, to a place that is not where they thought they were. My kids still need to be reminded that when they’re frolicking in the waves of the ocean, they need to always be aware of the unseen forces that seem to conspire to move them to where they don’t necessarily want to be, and to remember that sometimes, in only waist-deep water, you have to struggle just to stay where you are!
Kind of like my experience with fatigue…. I sometimes feel like I have to work hard just to stay where I am, I have to struggle to not lose ground, I have to constantly be vigilant to not be moved to where I don’t want to go without even realizing how I got there….
I get to a place of acceptance, for example, where I am okay being where I am, am dealing well with living with fatigue, and am even frolicking in the waves of Life’s goodness…and suddenly, I find myself being pulled under by the silent undertow of frustration and self-pity! “Why is this happening to me??” “How much longer is this going to last??” “This really SUCKS!!” “I hate this!!” Where did it come from? How did I not feel it coming? How did I get here? And how do I get back??…
Or…I am having a lovely time with my family, undistracted by the many outside commitments that I used to believe were critical, able to be more fully present to my husband, seeing him as the good and kind, hard-working and overly responsible man that he is; able to focus more fully on each of our children, seeing them as the wonderfully made and maddeningly complex individuals that they are…. And out of the blue, the oh-so-strong riptide of being productive pulls me out to sea! “I am not getting anything useful done!” “My world has become so small!” “There are so many good causes to be involved with, and I’m not involved with any of them!” “Other people are doing so much!! Why can’t I do even a little??” It has been such a strong undercurrent in my life…and is such a commanding voice in our culture….The myth of our value being inextricably tied to our productivity still has the power to silently and quickly, without my consent and generally without even my awareness, move me from the place where I have come to–a place of grateful acceptance, that is large and open–to a place where I didn’t want to go–a place of perceived worthlessness and laziness, that is narrow and small…. And again I find myself asking: Where did it come from? How did I not feel it coming? How did I get here? And how do I get back??…
Just like on the shore of the ocean, this “undertow” is real. Just like at the beach, there are unseen forces that seem to conspire to move me to where I don’t necessarily want to be. Just like when my children are frolicking in the waves, sometimes I have to struggle just to stay where I am!
And when it happens–which it does, repeatedly–what then?
Just like my kids, I have to be aware. I have to be aware of where the shore is so I don’t get out further than is safe. I have to be aware of where my “spot on the beach” is so I don’t end up twelve miles “downstream” before I realize I don’t know where I am. In other words, I need some sort of landmark that helps me stay oriented to both where I am and where I want to be….
For me, that landmark is God. God is my “spot on the beach.” I have to keep my eyes open, watching for what God may be doing in and around me. I’ve seen, for example, my children (and husband!) become more independent throughout all of this, and I’ve seen my relationship with each of them deepen. I have to keep my ears open, listening for God’s voice speaking in my heart. I’ve heard, for example, the voice of God relentlessly whispering the truth that I am not what I do, that my value is not dependent on how productive I am, that my fundamental identity is to be found as a beloved child of God. I have to keep my heart open, focusing on who God is calling me to be in this season of my life, trusting in the goodness and beauty of the oh-so-much-bigger picture that I may or may not be able to see. I have to be aware of the Spirit of God in my everyday living, breathing, moving, and being. That is my landmark.
God is my “spot on the beach,” and being aware of the reality of God is what helps me deal with the reality of the “undertow.” It’s what helps me in my struggle to just stay where I am once I get to a place I want to be. It’s what helps me when I am fighting to not lose ground. It’s what helps me get back when the undertow has pulled me to where I don’t want to go, without my even realizing that I’m not where I thought I was!
“So listen up, kids! There’s an undertow today. It’s real, and it’s powerful. And we’ve all got to be aware! So make sure you find our spot on the beach…and go have fun in the waves!” 🙂