What Survival Mode Looks Like in the Middle of Life’s ‘Perfect Storm’
A handful of times in our lives you will find yourself in the midst of a perfect life storm.
Usually there is a precipitating crisis: Cancer. Infidelity. Bankrupcy. Infertility. A shattered dream. Depression. A major accident. Divorce. But it’s not usually just one major thing imploding… it’s a half dozen crises on multiple frontal at the same time. And suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a hurricane that you cannot outrun, outsmart, or outpray.
As we’ve seen this week with Hurricane Matthew, climatologists tell us a precise combination of elements is needed to create a hurricane. Warm air from one direction. Cold front from the other direction. Increased moisture from another hurricane nearby. Inordinately high wind speeds. All coming together at the exact window of time to create a monster storm.
My perfect storm fell within an eighteen month window: An unexpected pregnancy in the midst of planning an international move. Scramble to figure out whether to deliver baby in Europe or USA. Marital conflict. Miscarriage. Health crash. More marital conflict. Delayed timeline. My father’s death. Sell 80% of our belongings. Organizational conflict. Hormone replacement experiment (note to self: BAD idea). Move overseas. Adjust to new culture and language.
When the magnitude, quantity, and timing of a group of events hits you with wave after wave… …. you’re probably in the eye of a life-altering storm that will, if you let it, become one of the most formative seasons of your life.
A few words of wisdom for those in the middle of their perfect storm…
Don’t try to outrun it, but steer into the storm.
The crisis you may have been trying to avert for years is upon you. Quit trying to outsmart the wind and the waves. Believe it or not, in the middle of a hurricane, they recommend you use your energy to steer directly into the waves. Otherwise, the waves will roll the boat. That thing you are running from— face it. Your fear. Your depression. Your broken relationship. Your questions of faith. Your addiction. Your control issues. Your anger. Your incredible disappointment. Like it or not, the storm has arrived—- how you orient towards it determines whether or not you will capsize.
Expect to be disoriented.
In powerful storms, you will not know whether you are heading toward shore or going further into the deep. Navigation instruments become essential in the storm because your instincts may tell you to go the wrong way.
Anchor yourself in the Truths you carried into the storm. Tap into other dimensions of your being for discernment: Feelers— move towards your head. Thinkers— get in touch with your feelings. Listen to your body. Pay attention to resistance. It’s critical to entrust yourself to others standing outside the storm; they will often see things that you cannot.
You may not recognize God in the storm.
When the disciples were in the middle of a lake, Jesus saw their furious and pointless rowing against the wind and came walking to them on the water. They did not recognize Him, they thought He was a ghost. Storms do crazy things to our perceptions of God. We see the stuff of our nightmares NOT God coming to meet us in our moment of terror. We see all the ways God is NOT showing up, instead of looking for Him in unusual places.
The week before we had a miscarriage, I had accidentally grabbed a jumbo pack of the most expensive toilet paper that was on an end-aisle as I sprinted in to grab something at the grocery store. In the middle of one of the darkest seasons, that toilet paper became an incredible symbol of God’s care for me. As confused as I was about why the miscarriage was happening, I experienced God’s presence through the most unusual provision.
You may feel like God (or others) have fallen asleep on the job.
When Jesus was sleeping right through a squall and the water was filling the boat, the disciples finally awakened Him saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Nothing brings out ‘martyrdom’ like a perfect storm. From the bowels of your boat will surface some dark stuff in the storm— Entitlement. Self-pity. Blaming. Victimhood. Beware— these often become a smokescreen to keep you from seeing the real issues.
Victimhood can be one of the most crippling responses. There are, of course, times when we have been truly victimized and in fact, healing (and justice) may include looking the reality of how much someone’s choices have harmed us. But when we camp out too long in the victim neighborhood, all our experiences begin to be filtered through a lens of helplessness and self-pity. It can be easier to find someone to blame for the storm than to move through the difficult work of forgiveness and addressing the factors that might have contributed to the storm.
Strength for the storm is INTERNAL, not external.
Storms powerfully reveal our inner world. While we can always bolster our support systems in crisis, the truth is our response in the storm comes from the faith muscles that we carried into the storm in the beginning. The beliefs you have professed will be tested; we will need to access God’s strength in ways we’ve never known before.
Leverage your strength to go to the hard places. The Amplified Bible says that Jesus “steadfastly and determinedly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” the place of his torture and crucifixion. Storms give us an incredible opportunity to die to the old, unhealthy ways of living. We have to make a conscious decision— “I’m going to deal with this issue that has plagued me for as long as I remember.” Use the strength you’ve been using to maintain an unhealthy system or self-protect or keep up appearances, and funnel it towards the hard work of addressing the lies and/or strongholds revealed in the storm (see my post on ‘Storming the Fortress of a Deeply Rooted Lie’).
Surrender to the God behind the storm.
As much as you can, align yourself with the Truths you are discovering in the storm: I cannot control everything. That role is NOT my true identity. God loves me in spite of my failure. I may lose everything but God will never leave me.
But more than receiving the lessons of the storm, lean into the Faithful One who both oversees and calms the storms of life. No matter what damage occurs in the hurricane— nothing is beyond His redemption. Every pounding you receive from others or from the evil one, and even the painful consequences linked to your own poor choices— every single situation can be woven together into something beautiful. In time.
Right now, however, you have permission to be in survival mode. Don’t worry about trying to figure everything out too soon. You will not have a clear perspective for quite a while. For now, throw some of the junk overboard that has been weighing you down. The perfect storms can somehow bring death blows to the damaging systems of thought or behavior that have kept us from freedom. Let the unhealthy walls and systems fall. Let some other people in. And more than anything, tie yourself to the mast of faith and hold on.