Fear’s Rip Current


Last week the older of my two daughters was supposed to have had her high school graduation ceremony.  In less than two weeks we were supposed leave for France.  My husband and I were supposed to be standing in front of the Eiffel Tower as we celebrate our 20th anniversary.  I suppose you get the idea: our big plans and celebrations were attacked by the coronavirus.

The numbness I now feel in the midst of this current situation has stifled the tears that flowed at first.  The uncertainty of next week keeps me focused on whatever I might be able to do today.  Planning for the future seems about as feasible as building a house of cards while sailing through stormy seas.

I am extremely thankful that both my husband and I are still employed.  I know this isn’t the case for tens of millions of Americans.  I’m blessed not to be struggling to put food on the table, whereas food banks nationwide are seeing huge surges in the number of people unable to provide their own food.  Desperation and despair are becoming common ingredients in this new recipe for American pie.

Social media platforms have become more divisive than ever before, and if it’s possible for our country to have a digital civil war, it will no doubt start on Facebook.  Those in fear of having liberties stripped away arm themselves with weapons ranging from proverbial sticks and stones to firearms.  Those in fear of the coronavirus don the uniform of face mask and gloves, despising those uncovered heathens who should just stay home.  The people caught in the middle, who are concerned about liberties and health, are bullied by both sides.  The optimistic #InThisTogether campaign could easily be replaced by the more realistic #InThisDivided.

As I’ve learned, anger is a secondary emotion.  It’s often fueled by fear.  In these times of uncertainty, fear is an ever-present danger, even for veteran Christians.

Despite the approximately 150 “fear not” verses in the Bible, this instruction is not always easy to live out.  You may even find yourself confidently swimming along when you are suddenly caught in fear’s rip current.  Having lived my entire life in New Mexico, I don’t know much about the ocean; but after reading what a rip current does, I couldn’t think of a more fitting metaphor for fear.

According to an article on the website Off Grid, “Rip currents pose a serious threat to anyone swimming in the ocean near breaking waves, especially young, weak, or tired swimmers.”  The article goes on to say, “. . . it’s often believed that rip currents drag swimmers down below the surface, but this is untrue.  Rips actually pull swimmers out away from the shore and beyond the surf zone.  Many uninformed individuals react to this by trying to fight the current and swim back to shore, but fighting the strong current only exhausts them further, making drowning a serious risk.”

So, what are you to do?  How can you escape?  You are supposed to swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.  You can swim back to shore only after you are out of the current’s pull.

Just how does this information relate to fear’s tug now that the coronavirus has changed our world?  You can’t simply swim back to the shore.  There is no returning to the way things were and hoping that what we have now fades into a distant memory.  Straining to return to the landscape you knew before will leave you susceptible to drowning.  You will need to learn how to swim parallel to the shore until you are released from the current (situation).  Apparently, rip currents are between 50 and 100 feet wide.  How far and wide the corona current will go is still to be seen.

Don’t lose sight of the shore.  We may all be swimming parallel to it for some time to come.  The painful truth is that not everyone will escape the current.  Though a handful of lifeguards do all they can to assist the drowning, some are beyond their reach.  Eventually, the majority will find that we’ve escaped the current and can head back to land.  Stumbling out of the water, we find that new challenges await us.  Sunburn, heat stroke and dehydration are very real threats.  Some will have easy access to supplies and shelter.  Others may fall victim to these dangers.

When we regain our strength and survey our surroundings, it becomes apparent that this beach looks very different than the one we left when we first went into the water.  For some, this new territory will inspire innovation and industry, serving as fertile new ground.  For others, it will mean a long, weary walk back to where they started.

Emotional responses in times of crisis vary tremendously.  A few people will horde resources and focus on self-preservation.  Others will look for ways to help those around them, finding joy in service opportunities.  But the majority will be numb from trauma, uncertain how to properly care for themselves, let alone help others.  In times like these, it’s important to get back to the basics.  A simple first step we can all take is to commit to treat others with courtesy and grace.

Everyone will experience degrees of suffering.  Yet not all suffering is wasted.  I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture that both challenges and inspires: “. . . we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV).

While I don’t want to suffer, I certainly want to endure.  My greater desire is that my character will be changed, so that I might become known as someone full of hope.  And this hope is not just wishful thinking, for “. . . those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV).

Friends, the current is strong, but hope is stronger.  May we all endure, be changed and soar!

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