When I was about ten years old or so, I remember my maternal grandmother (we call her Meme) telling an amazing story about how my Pawpaw had to tread water for over 3 hours to stay afloat on the Mississippi river one summer. As the story goes, he was in his late twenties or early thirties, pretty fit and strong, so it was no problem for him. Pawpaw was with friends on the river and whatever water craft they were using (canoe, maybe) tipped over and was swept away from the group. They ended up treading water until another boat was seen and pulled them on board to safety.
“Do you know how to tread water?” she asked me and my little sister. “It’s one of the most important things to know about swimming. It keeps your head above the surface.” Meme and Pawpaw often took us fishing; they had a sizable boat and plenty of gear, and for all I can remember, we were probably headed out to the lake and she was giving us safety tips.
The last several weeks of my life have been completely exhausting. Its the kind of exhaustion where you cannot remember what you were just saying, or how to spell a simple word—its the kind where, if you stop moving, you won’t get up again. In all my crying and complaining about how tired I am, or how I have such little time for important relationships or for myself, I keep finding myself saying, “I feel like I am just treading water right now.”
So the disgruntled, emotionally frustrated and mentally exhausted me feels like she is furiously working hard in life without gaining any ground—like I am on a treadmill or a hamster wheel or I am ferociously treading water to stay alive, without the option to make it to shore. And all of this water-treading is stirring things up, and bringing some deeply buried things to the surface.
I just realized how jealous I can be, how hopeless I can act, and how absolutely whiny I am. And I am a follower of Christ! Where is my faith? Why is it so little? I have never been left in the dust, wounded and alone, because I have a God who has loved me and has rescued me 10,000 times. Why have I forgotten this? Why am I not content with what I have and where I am at? Like anyone, I can be so ungrateful and dissatisfied with what is set before me, and so very impatient about being able to move forward (for the record, I know I am not alone in this feeling… I think many of us can feel this way regardless of our age or job or status in life).
My Poppy (different grandpa) always says that I am too impatient with myself—I am always quick to try and master a task and move on to the next step, like life is a video game with 10 levels and a robotic boss character to be defeated at the end of each. But all that attitude or way of living life does is perhaps bring mastery, but not growth. Through God’s abundant grace, I am slowly starting to understand that life circumstances are not about mastery. They are not about becoming proficient at dealing with personal struggles. Although I completely believe it is a good thing to be a master of a subject or proficient at a task, I don’t think I should approach my life trials that way.
Life isn’t about mastering struggles and moving on to the next with some mental trophy or award, but to be ever growing and maturing. I mean, this is pretty elementary level wisdom for most, but this idea about my present uncomfortable circumstances being more about personal and spiritual growth rather than personal and spiritual mastery/proficiency recently hit me like it was new, like it was all boxed up in a pretty package with a bright note that read “brand spanking new!”
(What? So it isn’t my job to rule the world and make sure everyone is okay and knows everything I think I know? Really?)
**Okay, pause. I am really going to take a second to grasp what I just said, and think about it very intensely… Trials are NOT about me jumping through hoops to prove how great I am at jumping through hoops to everyone.**
Previously, I have been all about, “Okay God, here is yet another wacky, uncomfortable and emotional situation – I got this.” I’ve been through enough really crappy events at 23 years old that I had gotten to the point of learning to cope and deal with it on my own, and not in a good way… more in an arrogant, prideful, I know more than the Creator of the Universe way. It was more like I have been trying to master trials or situations rather than learn and grow and have faith through them. I pretended that I did not need to grow, because I was so very “spiritually mature.” Like I was God or something.
Self medicating my anxiety in various ways was not overcoming it. Complaining about the fact that I am not currently recklessly chasing my dreams was not turning into joy. Whining about not having the energy or drive to write was not motivating me to take action. Venting about bad days at work and not being able to work where I want wasn’t bringing relief or peace. Obviously, the way I thought I knew how to deal with things or cope with things was not working or producing fruit. I got really good at putting band-aids on everything, which was my immature and infant-like attempt at overcoming trials.
I need to focus less on being the master of overcoming things, and more on being the student.
So what if I can’t move forward yet and change my current circumstances? So what if things aren’t yet what I think they should be? Yes, I am exhausted. Yes, I don’t have much of a social life. Yes, I’m not currently pursuing my preferred career. WHO CARES! If I could just learn to get over myself—and in turn defeat the very thing that is most in my way—this life would come so much easier!
There is much joy that comes from learning how to have faith while waiting on God to move, rather than frantically trying to put all the pieces together myself. There is excitement that comes from the revelation that life is not about how proficient I am or how I master tough circumstances, cause I am definitely not always the best at it. I will rejoice in the fact that life is about growing in faith and maturity.
While I tread water, I build strength, endurance, perseverance. For trials produce perseverance, and perseverance produces character and confidence in walking in faith. Faith produces change and action, which produces growth and fruit. Yes, it will take time. However, so does growth.
So maybe it is okay to spend some time treading water, rather than attempting to be the master of the struggle in front of me. Sure, its uncomfortable and tiring, but it produces something great in me that wasn’t there before; I am learning that I am not in control, and its best that I’m not.
However tired, my legs and heart and lungs are getting stronger as I pump the water to stay afloat.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into His grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope and the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.