As a toddler I nearly drowned in an undertow in the Caribbean, and ever since I’ve had varying phobias about water. When I was about six years old we were swimming in a swift-running creek at my grandparents’ home in Arkansas. There was a den of snakes in the bend of the creek where driftwood had accumulated. I was warned to give the water moccasins their space, and having seen then slide across the water in ominous silence, complied.
However, in the bend of the creek, a whirlpool had formed, and I swam into it and was sucked in. It pulled me under the water and I fought to free myself as it pulled me closer to the driftwood and the snakes. I was frantic and cried out. Others around me thought I was playing, and largely ignored my terror. I eventually fought free, and slumped exhausted up onto the creekbank.
I later learned that the fastest way to be free of a whirlpool is to quit fighting it, to let it spin you out into calm water, which it will do very quickly. People told me that with rolling eyes, clucking. Silly girl. Even years later, that didn’t seem like an option if it was going to spin me into a snake nest. I was afraid, and I fought for my life.
As an adult, I had a dream in which I was free-falling. It was during a terribly stressful time and the freefall could easily have been equated with the way I felt: whizzing through space, terrified of the landing. I was certain my world was going to wreck soon, like being drawn into a den of snakes. I awoke from the dream just as I realized that I wasn’t falling, I was floating, and I was in the womb. I wasn’t touching anything, and nothing was touching me, so I had no point of reference. I had no reason to fear. I was perfectly safe. It was a turning point. It was all a matter of perspective.
Those of us who freefall usually leap. Not content to plod along, we seem to seek out cliffs and leap from them. Not that we’re terribly excited about the freefall when we’re there, but we can usually trace our steps to the edge of the cliff easily enough.
Peter was like that. He wasn’t content in the boat. He knew, after seeing just once, that people could walk on water. He asked only permission, and as soon as he was sure of the master’s support, out he went. And he walked on water. Until he got scared. Having leapt out of a few perfectly good boats in my day, I feel a particular kinship with Peter.
So much of life is just a matter of realizing we’re safer than we think, the consequences are less dramatic than we fear, the waves that tower above us won’t necessarily swamp us. But the key is to be unafraid, and the way we can is to focus on how we are helped.
Help breeds confidence, and we must be grateful to get the most out of the help that is offered to us. Gratitude opens our eyes to see everything in 20/20, without the myopia of standing amidst the waves and seeing only them. Gratitude dispels fear, eases depression, and opens the way for hope to harmonize our scatteredness. It is the beginning of confidence, and the first step to letting go and spinning out of the whirlpool.
Life occasionally feels like a swim next to a snake pit, and the whirlpool sometimes feels desperately life-threatening. We need to realize that we are safer than we think. My parents would never have let me swim anywhere truly dangerous. Despite the fact that we make our own choices here, we are treasured children whose days and hours are numbered, for whom guardian angels stand at the ready. He isn’t going to let anything happen to us while we’re trusting him.
Many are drowning now, fighting the sucking of the whirlpool. For some, it seems as big as the ocean above. Trust that God wouldn’t put you anywhere you can’t swim out of. It’s not as bad as it seems. Help is available. Let go, and trust where the whirlpool will spin you out.