Paddling Through the Waves

When people think of surfing, they usually think of some beautiful, extremely fit person coasting along a large curling wave.  What most people don’t realize is to be able to do that, the surfer first had to paddle out through those same waves.

Suffers get fit, not by riding waves in, but because of the great strength it takes to paddle out through the waves. Before you can ride a good wave in, you first have to learn how to recognize the wave coming right at you.  Then you have a decision to make. Is it small enough to just duck your head down and keep going? Is it big enough that you need to duck dive under the wave?  Do you need to turtle? Or are you past the break so that you can paddle calmly over the wave. If you get it wrong, you soon discover just how powerful a wave is.

The same is true in the life of our heart. Those people who seem to be filled with joy, love and the peace of God, all of them had to first learn how to paddle out though waves of anger, hurt, loss and regret.

I had written that the real struggle is for our heart. So how do we paddle out through the waves of anger, sorrow or paint that threaten to harden our hearts? Here are a few things I have learned.

The first thing is to be able to recognize that a wave is coming at you. Often there is a bit of warning. Perhaps your encounter some trigger that will set off your feelings of hurt. Perhaps you have to face a situation or finish a task that will cause your anger to take off or perhaps there are certain times of the day that you find your mind racing (for me it is first thing in the morning).  The worse thing you can do is to try to deny the wave – if you do it will simply knock you over. Instead pay attention. Then you need to cut through it.

The easiest way to cut through our anger or regret is, when the waves are not too difficult, is to simply shift your focus and pay attention to the moment. Pay attention to the person in front of you instead of thinking about the past or future. Turn your attention to the beauty around you. Get out of bed. Try to be mindful of the moment. Then as your focus turns back to your hurt, simply return again and again to the present moment.

What  if the waves are too strong for this to work?  Try breathing deeply. Breath deeply in and deeply out. Try counting as you breath, slowly increasing how many seconds your in breath or out breath takes. Taking a deep is a physical trigger for our body that tells it to relax again.

If this doesn’t work, then what I find most helpful is a song. Because of my own experience living for a time at Taizé I find many of their chants very helpful. Recently my five year old daughter has discovered dance music.  It is great. Let me tell you just a little bit of Please Don’t Stop the Music or a little Walk Like and Egyptian, along with some dancing does wonders for one’s heart.

Then some times, what you really need is just to watch a movie, go for a run  or play a video game. Just what ever it takes to give your self a rest and get to a more neutral place.

What is important is, just as a surfer holds on to and trust their board to keeps them afloat and to help them cut through the waves, hang onto and trust in Christ who dwells in you, to carry you through the waves. Have faith that you will be given the strength you need to get through this. Rest on this when you need to. Plus, you will need that surf board. If you abandon it, the whole point of why you are swimming through the waves will be abandoned with it.  

Once the intensity of the wave begins to pass comes the next step. You need to keep paddling. Which in this context means opening your heart to love, and to God again. Where in this moment can you see and experience love? Where is there beauty in this moment that opens you up? What in your life fills you with gratitude? Drink this in as God’s gift of food for the journey you are on.

You need to start paddling quickly. If the surfing is good, there will soon be another wave trying to push you back. Just remember that  one day you will be able to ride these waves in. All this work of paddling out in the end is what helps you become strong enough to surf.