by Joanie Butman
The ocean was angry last week producing uncharacteristically large waves, drawing surfers of varying abilities. There is one in particular that amazes me. He performs headstands while he surfs. It takes patience and lots of practice to master that skill. I watched the novice riders get up shakily, fall, then paddle out to try again. A stark contrast to the head-standing showboat making it seem effortless. It’s a lot like life. I couldn’t help but think of Jon Kabat-Zin’s words, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”
Yes, but first you need to learn how to swim. Some people take to the water naturally. Others are more timid. My own two children are perfect examples. Swimming seemed second nature to my daughter, while my son wore his swimmy suit long after it was age appropriate. We still tease him about it.
Starting as infants when I held my kids over the water so they could dip their feet in, I was never far (regardless of age), keeping an ever-watchful eye on them. As toddlers, I was ready to pull them from the surf if a wave knocked them over. The older they got, while I still remained close cheering and encouraging but ready to intervene if necessary, I’d wait and allow them to recover themselves in order to build their confidence and overcome their fear. The more often they struggled and got up on their own, the braver they got mastering the waves, whether it was jumping over them, diving under them or eventually riding them. The challenge as parents, of course, is knowing when to step in – especially as they become young adults.
When we see our children struggling (regardless of age) our first instinct is to rescue them. However, the same way a child needs to learn how to swim before he or she can surf, so do adult children need to learn how to navigate life. It’s hard. The challenge remains knowing when and how much to help without crippling or undermining their own abilities. I’m still a novice and make lots of mistakes, overstepping boundaries or offering unsolicited opinions. It’s a steep learning curve, but the best advice I’ve been given thus far is, “Keep your mouth shut and the welcome mat out.”*
I can still feel the terror of being caught in a wave as a youngster, convinced I was drowning. It seemed like an eternity, but I’m sure it was less than a minute before I popped up sputtering water and looking around surprised no one noticed. “What the heck? I’m drowning out here people! Didn't you see me?” I’m sure my mom wasn’t far away and would have stepped in had I been in real danger, but it didn’t feel like it. Spiritually, sometimes it seems similar. It’s then that I shakily get to my knees and call for help. “Can’t you see me God? I’m drowning down here, HELP!!”
Growth is painful. Growing pains are just as real at 8, 18 or 80. We all get knocked down by the waves of life. As spiritual toddlers, God reaches in faster to rescue us, building our confidence and trust in Him one wave at a time. As we mature, He knows how long we need to struggle to develop our character. It may not feel like it, but He has perfect timing. We humans are an impatient lot always wanting a quick fix. The best fix, however, is rarely the fastest one.
Physically and spiritually, it took years to master the art of riding waves – waiting for the right one, perfecting the timing, and overcoming the fear of being crushed in the process. Boogie boarding is as close as I’ll ever come to the thrill of surfing. I use the same technique in my spiritual life - lying flat, clinging to my “Board” for dear life. In fact, some of my best rides have been on my back in a hospital bed.
Life is rough. Take comfort in the fact that God is always there waiting to intervene at exactly the right time. He is the only lifeguard you’ll ever need. He wants to teach you to surf, but it isn’t easy, it isn’t fast, and the lessons are ongoing. It begins when you choose to be open to His instruction and call out for His help. Like any experienced parent of adult children, God remains silent with the welcome mat out until we choose to seek His guidance and assistance.