The first time I dreamed that I was drowning, I was actually surprised to wake up. It was so real and so vivid that I actually believed that I was dying. I don’t know if you’ve ever dreamt you were drowning, but it’s terrifying.
I was even more surprised because I don’t normally dream, or if I do I don’t remember them when I wake up. But this one felt more like real life than a dream, and even a few minutes after I woke up, I was still breathing heavy and my heart was beating fast.
That night a few years ago is one I haven’t forgotten. It came in the middle of a time in my life when I had some big decisions to make and didn’t know what to do. Things were good at work, but I was feeling pressure to succeed, and for someone like me who struggles with not tying my identity to my achievements, this was crushing. I was finding that I didn’t know how to do what I needed to do to keep things moving forward, and my bag of tricks and easy ideas was running out.
That was the beginning of a long journey that I’m still on. I tend to walk a fine line between busyness and burnout, but I call it healthy productivity. Only recently have I begun to understand that this kind of pace can keep you dangerously close to consuming depression and anxiety.
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Each of us experiences seasons of sadness and hopelessness at different times, in different ways, and for different reasons. When we find ourselves there, something inside us leads us to one of two gut reactions: we either run to God, or run from God. Even people who don’t consider themselves to be “religious” people often find themselves in one of these two positions.
Those of us that run to God immediately begin praying for rescue. Sometimes it sounds like, “God, I’m drowning here. Please help me, save me from this.” Sometimes it’s more like, “God, why would you let this happen to me?” Some of us pray the vending machine prayer. “God, if you help me out, I will ______________” or “I will never _________ again.” In other words, God, I’ll deposit a little bit of something good, and you just spit out something good that will help me.
The encouragement in those moments is bittersweet. It’s meaningful and difficult all at once, but it is true and it is simple.
God often doesn’t deliver us from our circumstances; He delivers us through them.
A few examples come to mind. Remember Daniel, the guy who got thrown into the lions’ den for praying to God? As they’re standing there about to serve him up for lunch, I’m sure he was asking God to rescue him in that moment. But God didn’t keep him out of the lions’ den. Instead, He saved Daniel in the lions’ den.
How about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Three guys who were tossed into an oven because they wouldn’t bow to an idol. They would only bow before God. Don’t think for a second they weren’t praying hard for God to keep them out of that furnace. I’m sure they were praying things like, “God, all we did was obey you. Why is this happening to us?” But into the fire they went. God didn’t keep them out, but he kept them alive, even through the fire.
Or how about Jesus? The night He was arrested, He prayed for a change of plans. He knew the pain and torture and shame and death that was coming, and He asked for a different course of action. But He went through it all anyway, and not only did He defeat death, but He delivered all of us through His sacrifice.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, burned out, heartbroken, worried, depressed, or at the end of your rope, this truth can bring life. God may not rescue you from what you’re going through, but he will save you through it. It’s often those moments where we don’t know what to do or where to turn that God is able to show us His faithfulness. He shapes and molds us. He refines us in the fire, and we come out on the other side looking more like Jesus than ever before. If you don’t immediately see a change in your circumstances, it doesn’t mean you’re beyond hope. You can be certain, God isn’t done working in and through you yet.
Hard as it is, this is part of the process of learning to trust God with our all. Until we’ve experienced these moments, we withhold certain parts of life, or we rely on ourselves in certain ways instead of looking to God as our source. We trust God with some, not all. But what I’ve found is, if I don’t trust God with my all, eventually I won’t trust Him at all.
It’s not an easy road that we walk as we follow Jesus, but we are never alone. I have these words of Jesus from Matthew 11 printed and framed on my office wall. I read them almost every day as I pray for God to keep teaching me to lean on Him and trust Him, and I don’t dream that I’m drowning quite so much anymore. These words have brought me life and I pray that they’ll bring you hope in your hopeless moments:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”