Disney’s underwater motion picture, Finding Nemo, is about a fish on a desperate expedition, searching the ocean for his kidnapped son. An exciting scene shows him passing through the “Swirling Vortex of Terror,” a heart-numbing jet-stream current that sucks its passengers into a life-threatening channel. He’s madly whipped through the torrent, blindly whisked hither and thither before breaking through to calm waters.
When I first watched the scene years ago, my heart skipped a beat. For a moment, it reminded me of a time in my life when everything around me seemed to be a swirling chaos. Unpleasant yet familiar feelings of panic, loneliness, and self-doubt were bubbling to the surface before I snapped into reality and reminded myself it was only an animated movie.
Have you ever faced a time in your life when you felt out of control, like you were hurtling through a “Swirling Vortex of Terror?” Have you ever been without hope? Has your support system ever failed? Have you ever found that, despite your most valiant efforts, your spiritual well-being was threatened with encroaching despair?
I am a follower of Jesus Christ. His teachings, his existence, his love has always given me a deeper life of purpose, meaning and hope. This has pulled me through an enormity of life’s challenges. But sometimes, for even the strongest of us who hold rich courage and tenacity, ongoing difficulties can distort our resolve, and leave us weak and feeling helpless. We are driven to survive, but what happens when our personal determination dies, and we are left with only disappointment?
Emotions Read — They Don’t Lead
Feelings are tools. They help us identify our beliefs, discover our myths and then guide our choices. It’s important to realize, however, that our emotions don’t necessarily tell us the truth about our circumstance. They only tell us what we believe is the truth.
Consider how a crisis can bring false beliefs to the surface. If we believe our life should always be pleasant, then we may doubt our success in the midst of a crisis. If we fear that past mistakes control our present behavior, we may feel discouraged and defeated. If we hold distorted views of how God’s blessing should materialize in our lives, we may doubt God’s promises. If we are mistaken into believing that respectful people will always treat us with respect, we may become disillusioned and bitter.
Now consider how truth can guide you through a crisis. In the Bible, Paul gave clear directions to the Philippians about how to guide their emotions. At the time of the writing of the letter, the Philippians lived in a dangerous and volatile period of history. But his advice was meant to anchor them to truth. He told them to think about things that were true, honorable, right, pure and lovely. To focus on concrete items that will still their minds, rather than stimulate them to anxiety. The result? “The God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:7-8)
So take courage! When you think your emotions are overwhelming, remember you still have control over what your mind thinks. You do not have to follow your feelings; read them carefully, and purposefully focus on the lovely, honorable, true things around you. Are you scared? God will help you wade your way through the fear.
Friends are Incomplete Complements
A network of supporting friends can help us feel secure and loved. The most noble and truest of friends, however, are still inadequate. They talk with us, encourage us, clothe us, feed us, listen to us and cry with us. But in the end, it is God who fills the need for peace in our heart.
This holds true at times when no one is available to support us. Some crises in my own life have been experienced in isolation, but I was not left alone. God knows the intensity of anguish and heartache I felt, and that has made them items of great worth. I picture myself one day presenting Him a crown of valuable jewels, including gems of commitment. When I think about those difficult periods in my life now, I am truly thankful. It has brought more meaning to the term “blessed assurance.”
We catch a glimpse of a similar personal satisfaction when Paul states, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians. 4:12)
In times of plenty, support your friends. In times of need, enjoy their support. Remember, however, your friendship with Jesus is the deepest and truest of all friendships, and is the only one that can bring true satisfaction.
Self Reliance Fosters Self Doubt
We can accomplish many things on our own when we apply the right strategy and techniques to problem solving. Inevitably, however, there will be challenges in our life that we will not be able to eliminate, no matter how much positive willpower we engage. This is when we can be most vulnerable to the feelings of self-doubt and discouragement. And this is when we can be most surprised by the liberating decision to release our control to God.
The somewhat seasoned Prayer of Serenity illustrates this perfectly: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When we choose to do what we can and not worry about the rest, our weakness will be a perfect condition to appreciate His power. And it is when we feel most frail that we appreciate His sufficient strength.
The Secret to Peace
In our eagerness to employ survival techniques and coping mechanisms in our life, we often lose sight of the one true foundation that keeps us grounded. Our cardboard walls of protection topple when hit with the tsunami of crisis. How, then, do we find peace?
The first step is to strip away our false sense of security. It only clutters up our heart and takes attention away from our God and the wonderful love he has for us, which is the key to peace. Only when we are left with nothing but the simple mystery of his redemption can we realize its incredible beauty and draw strength from its power.
It is an unfortunate yet inevitable reality of our chaotic world that each of us will experience a “Swirling Vortex” of our own. But take courage! God walks on the water that we fear. Our cry for help is not unheard, and at the right time, He will pull us out. The deeper we plunge, the deeper we will appreciate Him when we emerge. The lasting peace that comes as a result is a treasure that few people hold.